Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Cry of the Prophet: A Response to the El Paso and Dayton Shootings

"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails." -Habakkuk 1:2-4a

"Lament" by Jeffery.
This past weekend, our nation was once again rocked with news of mass shootings. This time they were only 13 hours apart in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. As of this writing, there are 31 people dead and 50 injured, not counting the people killed and injured a week before at a Walmart in Mississippi or a festival in Gilroy, California or the dozens of others this year alone.

Mass shootings are a crime that always grab my attention, partly because one of the first took place a few miles from my home in Oregon. And whenever there is a national tragedy, I feel compelled to offer a pastoral word in sermon or letter to my congregation.

I've done this after the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, WI...

and the Newtown shooting...

and the Boston bombing...

and the Charleston shooting...

and the Ferguson protests...

and the Charlottesville violence...

and... and...

This week, however, I found that I didn't know what to say. I've spent the past four days staring at my screen at a loss for words.

How many times can you say, "God weeps with us" and "Jesus is making the world better" before they just feel hollow and cliché?

How can I proclaim hope when it seems that nothing ever changes?

It was in the midst of this that I stumbled upon Habakkuk and found the words I needed. Habakkuk is one of the Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament) and I mean minor. It is about a page and half long in most Bibles and it is not a favorite for pastors to preach or teach because it is a lament. But that is why it is perfect for me this week.

Habakkuk is a prophet crying out to God about how violent and corrupt and terrible the world is. "Destruction and violence are before me... and justice never prevails," he says in his opening words. He's basically writing a letter to God to say, "Dude! What the hell?"

It is a type of writing that is actually pretty common in the Bible. Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, portions of the prophets and MANY of the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 13 and 130) have a similar theme and they hold a great lesson for us: we can be honest and frank with God. Sometimes we find the strength to say or do the right thing, but sometimes we just need to scream or cry or fall apart and God knows that.

So if we are angry about the state of the world, God can take it; if we need to cry over senseless deaths, God will listen; if we can't figure out how to move forward because we feel lost, God is patient; if we can't do or offer anything positive because we just feel empty and overwhelmed, God understands.

Habakkuk eventually hears from God ends his letter with a word of hope: "Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines...yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation" (3:17-18).

Hopefully tomorrow I will rejoice in the Lord, too, but today I'm angry and sad. And that's okay because it puts me in the company of God's saints through the ages.

Come quickly, Lord.

Standing in the Gray,

Pastor Ari

“But you don't get thick skin without being burnt.” -twentyone pilots, “The Hype"

(Even pastors need to hear the Gospel from others. Thank you to those who spoke to me this week.)

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