Tom Gilson

The One Thing Wrong With Seeking Advice On How To Respond to Tragedy

How do we respond to a tragic horror like this weekend’s shooting in Orlando? If you’re just asking now, you might be asking the wrong question.

It’s not that there’s no answer. There is, and on one level it’s quite simple. I do not say it is easy, but at least it can be stated simply: We respond in love according to truth and grace, as always. Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and God is love (1 John 4:7-8). That’s our standard. It’s broad enough to cover every circumstance, from the mundane to challenging.

But it isn’t easy, sometimes. There are tough issues to sort out. What is the truth about this tragedy? Rather, what is the relevant truth? I’ve seen one disgusting display from a pastor who thinks the relevant truth is that the victims were gays. (He used a harsher word I don’t need to repeat.) He missed the far more relevant truth that the victims were fellow human beings, made in God’s image, loved by God, whose death God himself sorrows over, especially if they have not come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). He overlooked the grace through which God is still reaching out in love to other LGBT persons, calling them into loving fellowship with himself. He expressed no love. His is a simplistic, one-sided and stunted view of human life under God.

That’s one bad example. No, I’m not linking to it. I wish I hadn’t given him the satisfaction of counting me as a visitor, so I don’t want to send you his way and add to that.

There have been many good examples, from Russell Moore to Michael Brown, to a large set of leaders including Al Mohler and Robert George. I wrote a response yesterday for The Stream, not published under my name.

Everyone I just mentioned, myself included, has been called a gay-hater. That charge is too simple; too easy. It’s as one-sided and over-simplified as the pastor I just mentioned. We’re human beings, too, living in the same mixed-up, crazy, confused world everyone else lives in, which is dangerous to view one-dimensionally. It’s dangerous to view any person one-dimensionally in a world like ours.

It is simple to say, “Respond in love according to truth and grace,” and to add to that this is the answer for every circumstance. It’s much harder to practice it. No one gets it right all the time. What I’ve observed, however, is that those who do it best in the very trying times are those who have practiced it in the ordinary and everyday struggles of life. We need to practice grace, truth, and love every day, to be prepared for the harder days.

Sunday was one of those harder days. I fear there are more coming. We need to shore up our understanding of truth and our practice of grace and love. I wrote Critical Conversations to help believers strengthen those qualities in relating to gays and lesbians. I think we’re going to need more of that kind of thing than many of us realize.

For, even though writers like Brown, Moore, Mohler, and George do important work in leading a Christian response to this tragedy, if you need them (or me) to guide you in how to respond, what that really means is you need more practice in grace, truth, and love every day. You need to understand more deeply what God says about the issues, of which there are many: violence, hatred, murder, other religions, sin, God’s judgment (and humans’ frequent mislabeling thereof), and more. You need continuing practice in loving people different from yourself.

I need that last one myself. I need more practice. We all do, every day. We’ve all been tested this weekend on how we express God’s truth, grace, and love. There are more tests coming.

What’s the one thing wrong with looking for advice on how to respond to tragedy? It’s waiting for the tragedy, when we should be practicing and growing ourselves to be ready to respond in grace, truth, and love, whatever might come our way.

Image Credit(s): Wikimedia Commons.

5 thoughts on “The One Thing Wrong With Seeking Advice On How To Respond to Tragedy

  1. Well stated Tom. And refreshingly Christlike. Melinda Penner affirms the same. Her reminder is timely as she remarks on this topic and reaffirms those inescapable strata of love’s egalitarian bedrock laced through and through the Christian’s metanarrative in which, to quote a few lines, “…every single person is a valuable human being born with God’s image, and that we have an obligation to respect that. Every one of us…..we are valuable human beings who still retain the image of God and deserve respect…. We’re all the same – a valuable human being.”

  2. Mr. R., a Non-Theist, stated the following: “….this is a good time for [you] to stop and think whether/how your activities with respect to the LGBT communities and the way you talk them contribute to the creation and maintenance of an atmosphere where crimes like Orlando get dreamed up and committed….”

    Mr. R. is correct about (real) complicity in the Orlando massacre.

    Swaths of “talk” of violence as a (real) component in the path to the Kingdom’s coming *is* complicit in a (real) way for the Orlando shooting. It’s unclear where Islam (or any other moral means/ends) lands here, but *if* (physical) means (weapons) are in fact, per Islam, (real) means to the path to the Kingdom’s coming, well then “that” is something for our Muslim friends to address (discuss) internally and hopefully outwardly as well. Indeed, such discussion and clarification is (truly and openly) wanted not only by large and growing numbers of Muslims but in fact pretty much everyone.

    But this isn’t about Islam. We have to think bigger, wider. This is about means and ends period.

    Complicity & Weapons:

    Physical violence – intentional, natural, or otherwise – as the (real) means to the (real end) within mankind’s landscape:

    [1] Postmodernism
    [2] Islam
    [3] Naturalism
    [4] Pantheism
    [5] Christianity

    It’s not obvious that love’s egalitarian self-giving is found as the irreducible explanatory terminus of any moral ontology there. Except [5]. That is a challenge if anyone disagrees and, obviously, such is a referent to love’s timeless processions within “Trinity”. We mean specifically the context of Means. The Self-Sacrificing God instantiates in the radicalism of the Self-Assumed Cross on behalf of, for, to benefit, unto, promoting, profiting, into, and therein loving all which sums to the other, and not merely the fuzzy and warm other, but in fact any and all *other*. There is no interview scheduled for the other. There is no CV for the other to compile. There is no resume’ which the other must present. This love can be, and in fact freely is, entirely one-sided. The nature of “Self-Sacrifice” instantiated in and by “triune reciprocity”, or God, or Christ, *is* the moral and ontic-antithesis of the insanity we find in the likes of the Orlando shootings (and/or homicide bombers, etc.).

    On violence, means, and ends we arrive within the ontology of “…… the God Who is glorified by sacrificing Himself for creation and not by sacrificing creation for Himself…..” (by Fischer)


    The international language of power emerges.

    There are greater things than the sword, and when it comes to “the path to Thy kingdom come”, well, Christianity stands alone atop a bedrock of love and self-sacrifice not found in any other (metaphysical) terminus of explanation. Christianity didn’t have the capacity to voice the international language of power as leverage for nearly 300 years. Yet it grew. We might even say that its politicalized empowerment, via the sword, 300 years in, wasn’t a good thing in the “path to the Kingdom’s coming”, as it offended Scripture’s narrative on far too many fronts as per part 3 of a 5 part discussion here: ….Obviously the other four parts provide helpful context. History is on the side of Christianity’s claims upon weapons. As in:

    When we speak of that which the Postmodern cannot morally muster (well, with the exception of equivocations), or the Naturalist, and, also, when we speak of Islam’s “path to Thy kingdom come”, or when we speak of something more balanced, short of total power, Christianity is hopeless and doomed to fail, for in weakness does it rise as we discover Christianity’s weapons in “the path to the Kingdom’s coming”.

    Intellectual and philosophical divergence:

    [A] On Christianity the weapons of our warfare in “the path to Thy kingdom come” are not material weapons, but are instead spirit and truth, prayer and hope, love and compassion, service and voice.

    [B] On Christianity we discover yet another insult against the language of power: Any and all effervescence of this or that subtle tinge of even a faint, almost unnoticed, hatred for the other sums, having failed to come to clarity in the lens of the ontological topography which sums to Christ, to this: murder

    We arrive, then, in and by both [A] and [B], at the following:

    [1] The weapons which the Christian is called to dive into, as per the ontological topography which sums to Christ, as per [A]

    [2] The murder against which the Christian is to fight, even conquer, as per the ontological topography which sums to Christ, as per [B]


    There are irresponsible New Atheists, there are irresponsible Postmoderns, and so too with Christians, and so too with Skeptics, and so too with….. as the very human trait which Mr. R. (rightly) points to as being (rightly) in need of constant introspection can be, if it goes unchecked, on some level complicit. That said, it’s just not obvious, at all, that the Postmodern’s reference to Christianity as either irrational, or immoral, or somehow off, or all of the above, as he presents what are his step-by-step efforts at presenting to us his own perception of the way things are vis-à-vis his reasoned arguments (flawed as they are) does not just ipso facto make him complicit should this or that confused Christian go out and do “Evil-Act-X” in response (etc.). In fact, we can and do rationally say (and we challenge the Postmodern (or etc.) to show otherwise) that any such act cannot be found in any irreducible moral sense to be an affront against what Postmodernism (or etc.) brings to the table of mankind’s moral quandary. Whereas, on Christianity, we are forced into the unavoidable conclusions discussed earlier.

    When we say, if we say, that the highest ethic is love, well reason as truth-finder discovers that such a claim upon the nature of reality either maps to the fundamental shape of reality or it does not. But if love is the fundamental shape of reality such that reason as truth finder shall (factually) be *un*reasonable should she chase after some other shape, well then we have come upon something of reciprocity, something of self/other. Something triune.

  3. Edit:


    “That said, it’s just not obvious, at all, that the Postmodern’s reference to [ …. ] does not just ipso facto make him complicit should this or that confused Christian go out and do “Evil-Act-X” in response (etc.)…”

    Should obviously be:

    “That said, it’s just not obvious, at all, that the Postmodern’s reference to [ …. ] just ipso facto makes him complicit should this or that confused Christian go out and do “Evil-Act-X” in response (etc.)…..”

    Mea culpa…..

    Which brings us back to the unavoidable……

    If in fact the fundamental “shape” of reality carries into reciprocity, into self/other, into something triune, such that love is in fact the highest ethic, then reason as truth finder shall (factually) be morally *un*reasonable should she chase after some other shape, as all lines which fail to map to reality are, simply, fictions.

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