In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, many people have many questions. These questions require several avenues of discussion to even begin fashioning responses. At the same time there is much to say—and we need to talk about this event—there are hardly words to appropriately do so. This is one of those situations we can’t really decide on answers as much as we can address the matter and struggle through it. Finally, our responses cannot be limited to words and thoughts; instead, we must find ways to actively engage all people at all times in healthy relationships. For as much as this school shooting is beyond comprehension, God’s grace in Jesus Christ is even more profoundly mysterious. Consider these proposals as you work your way through this tragedy and others—sadly enough—to come.
1. All of us are capable of the kind of behavior that the shooter, Adam Lanza, perpetrated, given a particular set of circumstances—histories, relationships, experiences, biologies, psychologies, environment, etc. If I had the life Adam Lanza had, I may have “snapped” similarly. We cannot judge, only empathize. That is not to say he is not to be held accountable; he is. Accountability is another issue. Anger and sadness and fear and anxiety are all normal responses. Incredibly, some parents of the slain children are able to extend compassion and forgiveness, too.
2. No one is beyond God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and we all require it. Adam and his family need grace, just like we all need grace in order to reconcile and find peace. Jesus’s gift of forgiveness is for all people for all things for all time—those who lived before his earthly life, those who lived after, and those people yet to be born. The question then, is not so much, ‘is Adam forgivable?’ as it is, ‘why didn’t he know grace and forgiveness in his life before killing others? What relationships broke down and why? How did he lose hope? Adam’s mother and father and teachers and friends and neighbors and acquaintances and strangers all played a part. You and I do the same for each other every day we live—either extending grace or stealing hope. Whatever overtook Adam was chasing him down since the day he was born. More evil than grace for Adam. Again, that is not to say he should not be held accountable. He should. But the reality is that we all played a part in this terrible act one way or another, and so we are all accountable. Our actions cannot condemn us any more than we are already condemned. We are condemned as and when we are born into an evil world. God redeems us by the power of the Holy Spirit who causes us to believe in the Jesus story which is God’s grace for the world. The good news is that nothing we do can neither separate us nor bring us closer to Jesus. Jesus is in charge of forgiveness and salvation, and Jesus chooses to extend it to those who need it most. Our need for forgiveness is as big as our need to forgive.
3. While these Connecticut murders are especially tough because they are so close to home and the victims so young, we can never forget that 100’s of thousands of children in Syria and Iran and Iraq and the Sudan—to name just a few in this decade alone—have suffered the same. We must also be devastated and outraged and sad and resolved to do something for these children and families, too. We must all learn to see ourselves in relationship with all people all the time. More importantly, we must learn to extend grace to all people at all times everywhere.
4. For as much as we may want justice for Adam Lanza and others who commit atrocities, at the end of the day—every day—all of us can be thankful that God is not fair. The last thing we want is a fair God. Thankfully, we have an unfair God who judges all people according to Jesus, not according to our own deeds and misdeeds. If any of us were judged on our own merit, we would all lose out on salvation, since God’s standard is perfection. Salvation is God’s gift to all of us who don’t deserve it. The real danger is trusting in our own good citizenship. The opposite of faith is not non- or unbelief. The opposite of faith is trusting in our own goodness and will. God gives to all who believe in Jesus the same standing that his only son has. God will judge Adam the same way he judges all of us. The day Jesus returns and we all stand in front to make an accounting of our lives, do not make a case for your own behavior. Beg for mercy, asking to be judged according to Jesus.
5. The good news in the middle of all this is that Jesus is coming again to finalize God’s plan of redemption for all of creation. Peace does not come after violence; peace comes in the middle of it; peace comes to defeat violence, swallowing it up, consuming it. Our world is a mess. Our nation is a mess. Our state is a mess. Our city is a mess. Our schools are messes. Our families are messes. Our lives are messes. But Jesus is coming again soon, and until that day, he comes to us and is with us and in us, giving us hope and confidence until that last day. On that day, no more violence. Until then, keep the faith, knowing that is it faith in Christ Jesus that keeps all of us.