I really don’t expect that there will be anything profound in this post. It’s just an attempt to process what happened in our city yesterday. I don’t even know what I’m going to say yet. I’m just going to start writing.
Based on how we’re feeling as a family, and on those I’ve been able to contact so far, we’re all feeling shell-shocked and angry. We’re shell-shocked in the way that anyone would be after their city experiences a terror attack (let alone in Christchurch, a peaceful and friendly place if ever there was one), but perhaps even a tiny bit more shocked because we know what it is for sudden trauma to come upon our whole city and to make us feel like our lives have changed in an instant. It’s been eight years since the earthquake, and now this. What the heck?
And we’re just so angry (and thankful that the Bible says, “be angry and do not sin”—not “don’t get angry”). I’m so angry that someone has taken the lives of people who were meeting peacefully in their place of worship. I’m angry that one or two sick cowards have inflicted their sickness on others in the worst possible way. We’re all sinners, but this act has shown us something pretty close to pure, unvarnished evil—with the last vestiges of common grace almost completely stripped away. And it’s happened right on our doorstep.
I’m also angry that people are already politicizing the incident—this one being particularly tone-deaf and insulting (in case you didn’t notice, they died because they thought prayer was worthwhile, lady). I’m angry that people like Fraser Anning exist—I’d very much like to see this small man take his cruelty, insensitivity and misappropriation of Jesus’ words and disappear.
But that’s nothing compared to the anger I feel towards the low-lifes who committed these acts. I have to admire the restraint of the arresting officers and the people whose jobs require them to associate with these individuals and who have, presumably, managed to show basic (if undeserved) decency—because I don’t know if I would have managed any restraint. I’m as thankful as can be to know there’s a God of perfect justice, and that one day he will dispense his perfect justice towards those responsible, whatever that ends up looking like. If I’m angry, how angry must the perfectly holy God be?
Mostly, though, I’m just sad. It’s truly a time to mourn, a time to weep with those who weep.
I don’t know exactly what the Muslim community in Christchurch and New Zealand will want or need in order to deal with this tragedy—beyond the usual kinds of love, care and support, of course. But whatever they need is what they should get. It seems obvious that they’ve been targeted in a truly horrific way, and Christians should be the first to stand up against any form of hatred that would target a person or a group of people because of their religious beliefs. Yes, Christians and Muslims disagree with each other about ultimate truth, but that doesn’t mean we hate each other, want to hurt each other, or need to fear each other. The victims aren’t just Muslims; they’re also fellow human beings, made in the image of God and loved by God. We long for freedom of religion and safety for people of all religions. We long for friendship with Muslims.
As a nation, New Zealand has experienced an uncommon amount of God’s common grace. It’s about as close to heaven on earth as I can imagine (though still nowhere near the real thing, I’m sure). We’re going to need all of it in the coming days, and we’re already seeing some of that shine through. For example, I thought our Prime Minister spoke extremely well, and her message was powerful and important: This is not who we are, and “they are us”. They were the right words for the moment.
Some of us who work in Christian ministry at the university have started pondering what our response should look like and how we can do something helpful and Christ-glorifying, perhaps especially reaching out to Muslim students. For example, would a combined gathering of some kind be worthwhile? Would care packages for Muslim students be useful, and what should we put in them? If anyone has any helpful insights on how to show practical care to our Muslim friends, I’d be glad to hear it.
Beyond that, God’s people here will (I’m sure) respond well, by God’s grace. We’ll continue to hold out the hope of eternal life that we’ve received through Jesus. We’ll continue to care for each other in our grief, and to care for others as we have opportunity, and to play a positive part in the overall response in our city.
And we’ll continue to cry, just a little bit more earnestly than we did before this happened, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Seriously, I’m ready.
Earlier this week, for other reasons, I spent some time in Mark 13—where Jesus talks about his coming return, but warns that there will be various kinds of ‘birth pains’ before his coming. Well, sometimes you realise how unpleasant birth pains really are.
Come, Lord Jesus.
And in the meantime, Father, please give us strength to not be dragged into sin by our anger or grief, or by the hatred and sin around us. Help us not to become monsters in order to defeat monsters. Give us strength to keep loving, even as you first loved us and gave your Son for us. Give us strength to press on. Give us a renewed dependence on you and longing for you. Turn our hearts to the hope stored up in heaven for us, and give us the privilege of offering this hope to people around us who so desperately need it.
One thought on “A Time To Mourn”
Thanks Geoff for these reflections. I’m meant to be preaching tomorrow morning in Westport, but will need to seriously amend my prepared sermon, and I’ve found this a very helpful start. Blessings to you all – you remain in our prayers. Could you contact the Muslim Association on campus and ask them what would be loving and helpful for the Christian groups to do to offer support?