Why, O Lord
Aug 11, 2019 | by Ben Phillips
Why, O Lord?
The whole Dayton region is still reeling from the tragic events in the Oregon District this past Sunday. I have been in much thought and prayer this week, and have made myself and the clergy of St. George’s available to anyone who might be in need of a pastor to talk to and pray with.
In high school I was the editor in chief of the school newspaper, and for a time considered a career in journalism. Journalists are always asking questions, the fundamental questions being Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why. Of these questions the most powerful is not the Who or What, but actually the “Why”. If you can get at the why of an issue, then you have gotten to the heart of the matter.
However, it is the why’s of life which are often the most elusive questions. After the events of last Sunday morning in the Oregon District we are all asking very deep questions of why. Why would someone do something like this? Why aren’t there better laws to stop these things from happening? Why would God let something like this happen? And the list goes on.
When we can’t answer the why, we often feel sad and helpless. This is certainly how we all feel (or at least ought to feel) in the wake of this senseless act of violence. A deep and awful sense of sadness. We can also feel angry, but that must come later. People who feel helpless often end up feeling angry. This is quite understandable, but if left unattended and unchecked, that anger can fester and result in horrible things.
At the candle vigil Sunday evening on 5th Street a pastor of a local Baptist congregation gave a prayer in which he said we don’t know why these things happened, but we do know and trust that God is good, and God is sovereign, and we believe that the love of God and his grace can and will overcome and heal our sin, hate, and anger. I am most grateful for his stirring and powerful words. I was also very moved by the young woman who sang a phenomenal rendition of Amazing Grace on stage, and very touched to hear how many other voices from the crowd joined in. Yes, we indeed need some amazing grace right now.
However it did not take very long at all for these events and emotional reactions to be politicized. Governor Mike DeWine was shouted down at the vigil with repeated cries of “Do Something!” Indeed what should be done? Politicians have a role to play, and I hope they do take seriously these events, and take steps that are appropriate for lawmakers to take. But laws are not the only dimension to this issue, and we run a great risk if we think that a legislative fiat will fix all. This is not only a challenge for politicians to solve. If these events do not cause us to look very deeply into our culture and how our own beliefs, values, habits, and sins create an environment where these things happen, and keep happening with increasing frequency, then we are failing to do our due diligence as citizens and as Christians.
But so often we want the quick fix which will solve a social problem without having to examine ourselves. I think that’s why we place such a high value (almost pathologically at times) on politicians and political power and political points. Can we start to ask tougher questions of ourselves? What role does the breakdown of families play? What are the negative social by-products of intense identity politics? How will we rightly and compassionately respond to genuine mental health issues? One 5th Street business owner stood up at the vigil and highlighted the issue of alienated and fragile masculinity. As the story has unfolded this week the gunman’s personal life demonstrates a grotesquely and horribly disfigured understanding of masculinity. I hope our sadness and sense of helplessness leads us to genuine reflection and dialogue, and not just shouts of anger.
This brings me back to the question of why? Why O Lord? Why do these things happen? Why do they seem to be getting worse, not better? Why are we unable to change? If I may offer a final thought. Christians believe that Jesus is the Light of the World and the Prince of Peace. He is the bringer of Amazing Grace and the Balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. We believe that Jesus is present in the midst of deep darkness, for he is the Good Shepherd whose rod and staff comfort us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We pray He will be a Good Shepherd to those who lost their lives, and the friends and families forever changed by these events. As we searchingly examine our own lives and our society’s issues, we must know that he is with us in the midst of our weakness, enabling us to be compassionate to ourselves and to one another. While we may not know the ultimate “why”, I pray and hope that you will all turn your hearts toward and trust in the ultimate “Who”.