Tuesday morning at Marshall County High School started out as a typical school day. Sophomores and juniors carrying books and backpacks scurried down the halls. Teachers were settling in for another day as lively voices filled the classrooms. But at 7:57 a.m. shots rang out in the commons area striking 16 students. Two 15-year olds were killed. Where do we begin when evil shatters a place of safety and innocence?
Perhaps it's best to begin with a suggestion on where not to start. It's not time for political posturing or proposing legislation. Blaming guns or school security policies crowd out the space needed for grieving. Nor is it a time to claim that this is God's judgment. The ancient Hebrew story of Job's "friends" remind us of this. They presumed that Job deserved his calamity and laid the blame at his feet. They didn't have a clue and neither do we in such times of tragedy.
A good place to begin is to offer compassion and step into another's suffering. Words often fail miserably in times of raw grief and just being present as a support is sometimes all that's needed. Being present might be to simply listen, or it might mean offering a shoulder to cry on.
Prayer is another place to offer solace. To pray for someone is to bear their burden. On Tuesday evening, many church leaders and public officials gathered for spontaneous prayer events in the region. One vigil was held at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White called people to pray at their local high school. Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood happened to be meeting with a group of pastors in Marshall County when news of the shooting broke. He urged churches to pray for the families and students.
Of course, there are critics of prayer. But in the face of senseless tragedy and confusion, we're reminded that when our world shatters, there's nowhere to turn but prayer. Crises remind us just how vulnerable and limited we are and bring us to the end of ourselves; so we look out and up.
Whether it's our limited understanding or inability to comfort, there is solace in a Creator who both understands and comforts. Prayer is the conduit between pain and healing, grief and hope, violence and justice. And God knows something about this.
The story of Christianity is of a world once good but now broken after sin entered. It's the miraculous story of a God who is so committed to fixing the brokenness that He stepped in and offered himself as a sacrifice to fix it. At the heart of Christianity is a Savior who identifies with us in our emotional trauma because he was traumatized.
Cynics rhetorically ask "Where was God at Marshall County High School Tuesday morning?" Which should lead us to ask, where were we when He suffered and laid down His life for the world?
We need to remember that the cross is where hate and violence met love and compassion. Jesus died on the cross for sin, including the sin that results in incomprehensible violence. The good news for those grieving and the hope of those joining prayer vigils across Kentucky is that pain and sorrow isn't permanent. And an empty tomb assures us that death doesn't have the last word.