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.