BP Toolbox, News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: What to say after tragedy


I opened my Bible this morning, the day after our nation’s epidemic of school shootings pierced the tight-knit community we called home for almost a decade, to a familiar psalm. King David writes, “God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer. I call to you from the ends of the earth when my heart is without strength” (Psalm 61:1-2).

So many people I love in Nashville today are without strength. The pastor’s wife at Covenant Presbyterian who once shared a weekly prayer group with my wife, now going home to face and empty room, a gaping hole in their family portrait. The colleague whose nephew won’t be around anymore at family gatherings. The friends who waited desperately at Woodmont Baptist Church and finally found relief that their three children are alive. A friend who works at Woodmont who spent all day comforting and caring for traumatized children and parents. The friend who works at Vanderbilt Children’s hospital, attempting to hold fragile life together, trying to heal unimaginable horror.

In moments like these, when violence and death visit, it’s hard to know a proper response. The psalmist above gives us one: desperation. God hear my cry. My heart is without strength. Or as Nashville pastor Russ Ramsey writes, to ask Jesus, as the disciples in a capsizing boat, “Do you not care that we are perishing here?”

Another response is anger. Jesus, in looking at the still body of His friend Lazarus both wept and “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus was not passe about death, this the work of the enemy. Neither should we be. Paul tells us that death is “the final foe” (1 Corinthians 15:56). In the account of the massacre of innocents in Matthew 2:16-18, Matthew harkens back to the weeping and sorrow and loud lamentation of Rachel in losing her children. Every one of those precious lives lost at Covenant School was an image-bearer of the Almighty. Their blood cries up to the Lord from the ground (Genesis 4:10). We should not ever make peace with death and should work, in whatever way we can, to make our schools safer.

This shattered community also needs our comfort. We can and should be near to those suffering so grievously today. Not with pious soundbites, but with presence. The friends and family and coworkers need our tears today. They need support. They’ll need it even more so in the uncertain weeks and months and years to come.

Lastly, we can surprisingly find hope. Not hope in a politics that doesn’t seem to be able to address this epidemic of death. But hope in the one, Jesus, who is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus suffers with us, as our Good Shepherd. The Spirit comes near as our great comforter. God is not detached, but walks us through the valley of the shadow of death.

This hope seems so faint, especially to those most touched by tragedy and grief, whose ordinary week is now forever marked by loss. Yet this Covenant School, at her very core, believed that Christianity was not merely a habit, but a way of life and that her purpose was to serve as a porthole into another world. A world where death is no more. Where there are no more tears, no more gun violence, no more pain. They believe—and we believe—there is a better world coming.

We can find comfort in, as Mr. Rogers urged, “Finding the helpers” – the Nashville Police who risked their lives to take down the shooter. Or the staff at Covenant School who quickly got as many kids as possible to safety. Or the counselors who will attend to the trauma of survivors. All pinpricks of hope in a dark world.

Ultimately, though, we cling in desperation to the reality of the resurrected Son of God, who defeated the death that robs our communities of too many precious lives. The members of Covenant Presbyterian and Covenant School really believe Jesus’ words, whispered through tears at the grave of His friend: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). This is why Pastor Scruggs could say about his precious daughter, “Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again.”

    About the Author

  • Daniel Darling

    Daniel Darling is the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a bestselling author.

    Read All by Daniel Darling ›