Struggling to say something about shootings

By Pastor Bernt

We have to ask why he did it, but there’s no satisfying answer.  Same for the question: why isn’t more done to prevent shootings?  We’re caught up in some kind of doom (as E. Bruenig grimly describes); we’re captives.  The following words from Ephesians 6 seem fitting: “our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood … but cosmic powers of this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.”  In this dark cloud suffering, violence and poverty are openly inflicted on the most vulnerable people, even children. 

And yet, we’re Easter people – we know that in Christ: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” So what?  So Ephesians 6 encourages us to “stand firm.”  I take this to mean, first off, not giving in to despair – keep living.  Soon after hearing about the Texas shooting, I took up my mandolin and opened up Bach’s double violin concerto – which I’m working on with my son Isaac.  I spent a few minutes on a couple measures where my fingers won’t yet go where they’re supposed to.  I wonder: the way a composer like Bach reaches after such ordered, life-enriching beauty – might it be the precise opposite of what the wickedly violent do? 

Then my kids wandered into the living room, from a mediocre day at school and pretty good first day at work (home from college).  We said hello and joked a bit.  It all felt totally ordinary – but also sane – and that feels right.  The author of Ephesians says (ch.6) that “standing firm” means “getting armed,” but not with actual weapons: rather with all the overlooked gifts of God in such short supply these days: peace, truthfulness, healing, hope – and Spirit, breath.

Clearly more must be done.  Lots of people offer prayer – but that can be a way to  “tempt God.”  Satan tells Jesus: throw yourself off the temple and make God catch you and Jesus says “don’t put God to the test.”  Don’t ask God to intervene (catch me) as a way to get out of your responsibility (not jumping). Tempting God; using prayer as a way to avoid action and change.  More can be done – even tried (gun access?) – to prevent the atrocities.  

When I’m truly at the limits of what I can find to do – that’s where I need prayer.  Maybe lament. I searched through the Psalms and a few seemed to resonate, challenge and comfort me:

Psalm 11:

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,

   ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains;

for look, the wicked bend the bow,

   they have fitted their arrow to the string,

   to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.

If the foundations are destroyed,

   what can the righteous do?’

The Lord is in his holy temple;

   the Lord’s throne is in heaven.

   His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.

The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,

   and his soul hates the lover of violence.

On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulphur;

   a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;

he loves righteous deeds;

   the upright shall behold his face.

 

Psalm 12:

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;

   the faithful have disappeared from humankind.

They utter lies to each other;

   with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,

   the tongue that makes great boasts,

those who say, ‘With our tongues we will prevail;

   our lips are our own—who is our master?’

‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,

   I will now rise up,’ says the Lord;

   ‘I will place them in the safety for which they long.’

The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,

   silver refined in a furnace on the ground,

   purified seven times.

 

Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,

   a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

       There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

   the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

   God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

   he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

    Come, behold the works of the Lord;

   see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

   he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

   he burns the shields with fire.

‘Be still, and know that I am God!

   I am exalted among the nations,

   I am exalted in the earth.’

The Lord of hosts is with us;

   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

          Selah

 

  • New Revised Standard Version