Processing Gun Violence
A note about this article:
I have intentionally not included anything about what we can DO about gun violence in this article. I am praying through and working on a pastoral response to that question. Frankly, everything within me wants to jump to action, to work to end these senseless killings. However, I know that to engage in healthy justice-oriented action, I need my heart to be connected to Jesus and my soul to rest in him. My intention in this article is to share with you how I am striving for that today.
Pastor Caleb Campbell
June 17th, 2022
I’ve served as lead pastor of Desert Springs for seven years.
In those seven years, more than 20 times on a Sunday morning I have approached the pulpit praying over how to address a shooting-related atrocity.
This coming Sunday, I will do this once again. My guts turn inside out as I wonder how many more I will face.
Today, I want to share some of the ways Jesus has helped me frame and process these horrendous events.
Looking Death in the Eye
Jesus teaches us to recognize the evil, sin and death we see in the world… to look it right in the eye (Mark 8:31, John 11:13).
We are not to passively shrug our shoulders or turn to pithy sayings. We aren’t to numb ourselves to it or try to pretty it up. We are to look it in the eye.
Which, if I am honest, I really don’t want to do.
I don’t want to look at the evil I see in the world. I want to ignore it, drown it out or distract myself. The last thing I want to do is look at it.
But Jesus invites us to a better way.
Instead of turning a blind eye, Jesus invites me to recognize it and pray, lament, to be angry at evil, and to cry out for justice with him in prayer.
The Psalms are a helpful guide when it comes to the anguish of the heart. We frequently see people crying out to God for justice, for instance, Psalm 28:4 reads
‘Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work; repay them for what their hands have done and bring back on them what they deserve. ‘
God invites us to wrestle through our longings, feelings and anger with him in prayer.
He wants me to bring all my anger, sadness, confusion, and agony to him. When I pray, I pray to a God who empathizes with me. I pray to a God that knows experientially what this feels like. (For instance, Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.)
In prayer, he invites me to receive his comfort & peace.
In prayer, he invites me to shift my longing for vengeance to a cry for Jesus-centered justice.
In prayer, he invites me to rest in him, to trust in his power and strength and to acknowledge that while I may not see it now, he is at work.
Looking at the Resurrection
Many of us treat death as if it’s the most powerful thing in the world.
Jesus shows us that death is not the end.
Jesus anchored his future to the resurrection, and he invites us to do the same.
Jesus conquered death.
This is why Paul, one of the earliest followers of Jesus, said:
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
On that first Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the grave. He was the first to do what we will all one day do. He tells us that though death will take us — we, too, will one day rise.
So, as we learn of the news of heinous killings, we fix our eyes on the resurrected Jesus.
Jesus laments death, is angry at death and ultimately conquers death by rising from the grave. He promises that one day, we too will rise.
When we learn of unjust killings, we are invited to:
- acknowledge the power of evil and death.
- take our feelings to God, cry out to him for justice, hold those who mourn in solidarity.
- look at the resurrection, knowing that these souls are not lost to God, and that ultimately, they will one day rise.
By putting death in its rightful place and trusting in the resurrection power of Jesus, I am able to navigate a world in which death seems to rule.
The wisdom the Spirit of God is building within us through scripture equips us to process violence and death and empowers us to hold in solidarity those who are weeping, those who are longing for justice, those who are asking ‘why’.
Because of Jesus, we can live according to the power of God, not the power of death.
We can live in grace and wisdom, love, mercy, tenderness, long suffering, forgiveness.
We can live a life of courage, knowing that death has no victory over us.
Church family, I continue to mourn and lament with you. If you would like to talk with one of our ministers or get connected to a counselor, email firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be our honor to serve you in this way.
– Pastor Caleb Campbell
If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 (Crisis Text Line)