Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 17, 2012

When Hope and History Won’t Rhyme

What can one say in response to the tragic school shooting in Connecticut last Friday? It seems beyond words, and yet we are all searching for something to say. We have a natural tendency to try and find words that help us cope. The senselessness of this event makes us uncomfortable, so we want to come up with some kind of answer.

Sometimes this comes in the form of political activism. We hope to regain control over the situation by thinking that there is a remedy in things like gun control, mental health initiatives, and so on. Other times we seek solace in theological discussion. We go through our repertoire of theological reasons for how a good God can allow evil to persist. Both responses are legitimate and important in their own right. I have had both types of conversations this past weekend.

I think that our search for answers reveals our discomfort with tragedy. If we have an explanation we can move on, feel in control, believe that things aren’t as bad as they initially seemed. Situations like this, however, have no simple answers. They cannot be dismissed with a well rehearsed platitudes like, “God works everything together for the good.” While we might get to that conclusion eventually it cannot be arrived at prematurely. We will not arrive at authentic hope without first admitting our hopelessness. We will not achieve peace of mind unless we are honest that we are not at peace. Simple answers avoid the hard process of facing reality.

Perhaps the appropriate response at this stage is to simply lament. The most meaningful response I heard to this tragedy was on my friend Dave Warkentin’s blog where he simply quoted the lyrics from U2’s lament “Peace on Earth.” The lyrics read:

Jesus this song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth?
This peace on Earth

This Advent season, hope and history do not seem to rhyme. There is a tension in my heart between Advent’s hopeful promise of peace and the reality of violence and discord in our world. Rather than avoid this tension, I think it is important for us to start by naming it. Bring God into the conversation and tell him your questions, your frustrations, your uncertainties.

David models this for us in the Psalms. I was reflecting on Psalm 88 today, which is one of the lament songs that has no resolution to it. The psalm is full of questions but offers no answers. David says that his “eyes are dim with grief.” He concluded by saying that “darkness is my closest friend.” This biblical tradition of lament reminds us that it is okay, and sometimes appropriate for us to live with unresolved questions. Instead of jumping to a premature conclusions and simplistic resolutions David names his grief and questions where God is.

I believe it is only when we have to courage to face the reality of despair that we have any chance of finding hope. Jesus even went so far as to pronounce mourners as “blessed,” for in their honest confession of reality they will be comforted.

It is hard to see where God is in the midst of such senseless tragedy. It is hard to reconcile the promise of peace with what seems like the enduring power of evil. But the one thing that does give me hope about the Christmas story is that it tells us how God is right there with us in our pain. It is a story of how God risked his very life to step into the darkness of humanity. It is a story about a God who weeps with Mary and Martha over the loss of their friend Lazarus. It is the story about a God who weeps over Jerusalem when he sees how lost the people are. It is the story of a God who experienced rejection, injustice and a terrible death on a cross.

The one thing that has given me hope in the midst of this tragedy is that God has revealed himself to be acquainted with our grief and an ever present help in trouble. What is more, this story seems to be played out in real time by the many people who continue to experience this peace that passes understanding in the midst of unbelievable heartbreak.

I’ll close with part of a prayer by Walter Brueggeman, that was written after the last school shooting in Virginia.

We dare to pray our needfulness to you
because you have been there on that
gray Friday,
and watched your own Son be murdered
for “reasons of state.”

Good God, do Easter!
Here and among these families,
here and in all our places of brutality.

Move our Easter grief now…
without too much innocence—
to your Sunday joy.
We pray in the one crucified and risen
who is our Lord and Savior.


  1. Thank you for your honest, balanced, wise input.

  2. Excellent reflections, I can add nothing to the discussion but a huge sigh.

  3. Two weeks ago when I spoke to my SkateChurch youth on Advent…the waiting for the blessed event of Christ’s birth…I also spoke to them about a Second that we don’t always remember during the joyful rush of the impending Christmas event. That Second Advent being the second coming of Christ and the last days. And how that Advent, for some, doesn’t bear the same sure joy as does the Christmas holiday in all it’s commercial splendor! Some of the Bible’s pictures of those last days might bring terror to the hearts of men who have not the assurance of God’s salvation through Christ. For Satan does roam the Earth, passing to and fro, commanding grief and agony for men on Earth, until that day! God allows this for His own reasons and according to His own plan for our lives. In my talk with the SkateChurch kids, I would never have thought to tell them of the possibility that for some of them this Second Advent might come before the celebration of the first Advent. That the decision to give their lives to Christ would be better off made earlier than later! For these children in Connecticut, indeed for any who have passed from the realm where Satan has sway, this Second Advent has, in a way, already come to pass. I pray that God claims all these children as His own and already has them with Him in Glory. For those of us left here on Earth, let this horrible reminder of the fragility of our earthly existence give us a newfound committment to seek the Way of eternal existence with our Father in Heaven. This ‘Way’ is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior! May it goad us to share His Truth and His Hope with our children and our brothers. I know that, Lord willing, I am going to have to make an addendum to my Advent talk with the skate kids this week. For those in Christ, the coming of the Second Advent should bear no less joy than the First!

    • Powerful and helpful words Dale. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for this honest reflection Phil.

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