How the Christian Church Responds to the Adam Lanza Tragedy in Newtown

During this Advent season 2012, most of the Midwest is overcast and gray. Michigan is no exception. I was aware of this as I shuffled past Kindergartners on my way out of school at C.A. Frost Environmental Academy here in Grand Rapids. Looking forward to Science Fridays with Ira Flatow, I turned on the radio in my hatchback. Recalling a text message my girlfriend had sent me earlier during my lunch break, the shock was lessened.

The shock remained, pulsing through the minds of everyone I have been in contact with for the past several days. 26 persons, 20 of whom were young children, gone in an armed maelstrom. In presidential fashion, Obama announced, “God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”

These words initially strike us as encouraging and thoughtful. I would like to deeper their meaning and do my best to speak to the situation theologically. The key question lies in discovering the response of the church, and subsequently of the faithful Christian, to the tragedy. Obama’s words help prime questioning hearts within people everywhere.

A family pauses at the vigil to remember and grieve.
A family pauses at the vigil to remember and grieve.

Entering this quandary begins in framing how the church responds to tragedy. The church, and Israel, has always been defined by the community it consists of; Israel was identified by their communal decisions under God. The church is defined by Israel’s hope, the Messiah or Jesus, and our Christian hope is our identity. The New Testament intricately describes how the community of believers collaborates to embody the message of Jesus’s kingdom come [Acts 2:42-47]. All the while, we, the community of believers, anticipate the fullness of creation made new [Revelation 21].

Back to Obama’s words: “God has called them all home.” This statement implicitly presupposes a God who caused these deaths. A theodicy is not necessary here, but to be clear, God mourns these losses. The young man, Adam, was free to exact his own will on others, sadly, and we grieve the losses. So does God. Jesus, the Son of God, suffered with us [Isaiah 53, Gospels]. God is greatly grieved for loss of life and the wickedness that causes it [Genesis 6:5-6]. He knows the length of our days, but clearly he does not seek to shorten them.

Back to the response of the church. This past Sunday, at Grace Episcopal, the church in which I have served for going on four years, we lit a candle and prayed for the families and individuals in Newtown. We lifted up our concerns and cares before the God who comforts and heals. We did it first as a community of faith, collectively pleading for God to reach into lives. We did it also as families and individuals with varying opinions and emotions. We long for God to make all things new, and do our best to keep praying the prayer Jesus taught us, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

We desire things on earth to be as they are in heaven, but we simply do not understand the evils made explicit in the Newtown tragedy. Nor can we comprehend the systemic evils that beset the planet we share. We do what the church does best: we pray, encourage, grieve, listen, and repeat the cycle. For the children, the parents, the families, the extended families, for Adam and his mother who is also gone. May the grieving families in Newtown know that the church, the common people of faith in God throughout the nation and world, is praying. And may they know that the God of the universe is also grieving, but also making all things new in the end.

The names of the departed are below. May we continue in prayer.

The names and ages of the children are as follow:

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

And the names, ages, and job titles of the adults are as follow:

Rachel Davino, 29, Teacher
Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30, Teacher

Credit for the list of people and the picture goes to International Business Times. Their article, from December 15th 2012, is here.

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