Lament for a Local Tragedy

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” That’s the ever practical question for a grieving city James asks in his New Testament letter (James 4:1). What causes or leads folks to want to shoot and kill police officers while providing protection for a peaceful demonstration? What leads others in power to abandon all de-escalation options to pull a trigger of deathly force? Our sermon series on The Ten Commandments and last week’s focus on “do not murder” could not be more timely.

James goes on to encourage lament. “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9).

Weep for those whose lives were cut short. Mourn for the families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow citizens. Grieve and cry out for Christ’s mercy for those who have been hurt so deeply, and whose God-given desires so unjustly unmet that their despair cries out in outrage and violence.

Dallas’ mayor declared the events of last night and into the morning “our worst nightmare.” Nationally it is the worst loss among police officers since 9/11. This day will go down as one of the saddest in Dallas’ history and even our nation.

As we all process the anxiety, confusion, and anger, let us be aware of the need for a holy and just response. Divisions and hatred among races and class are real in our society. We still suffer the ongoing effects of the sin of slavery and racism in our country. The shooting events of this week from Louisiana, Minnesota, and now Dallas, are added to the mounting tragedies in recent months and years in our country and world, and reveal that humans still more commonly fight from a place of division and fear of being different. As James points out, the real problem goes much deeper.

What prompts divisions? What keeps the beautiful and myriad diversity of culture, race, size, gifts, and vocations alive in us from being the things we celebrate and for which we give thanks? What keeps us from caring for the deep needs that those differences at times create or accentuate? The fuel for division and violence comes from an angry fearful heart (James 4:1-2). Fear of not getting what we want. Or the pain of being denied the desires God created us to know at rest in Him. Fear of not being accepted. Being alone. Suffering unjustly because of who we are.

At times like these there is no shortage of talk, newscasts, articles, and social media posts preaching more than reporting; venting more than lamenting. Voices raise to explain why or identify the problem, and scramble for more creative or lasting actions beyond “can’t we all get along” refrains common at the all-to-frequent and similar tragedies in schools, homes, roadsides, churches, and courthouses.

James’ timely instruction for us is “draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).” Have the courage to confess your own double-mindedness before a gracious and merciful Savior Jesus Christ, who knows the unjust suffering of an ambush from his own people which lead to thorns, nails, and tears for the lost.

Then, with soft hearts James adds, “be wretched and mourn and weep” (James 4.9). We need the hearts to feel the loss of another; the courage to suffer with them in their unmet desires; the hope to see a different vision of a society where people from all nations, languages, races, and status can truly live together and celebrate God’s image in one another; and the deep freedom from the fear and anger alive in everyone’s hearts that keep us from sacrificing our comfort and safety to walk in this direction together.

Join me in prayer throughout the day for God’s mercy to bring healing to the wounded, comfort to the grieving, discernment to our leaders, swiftness and justice to the investigation, a spirit of peacemaking to community and church-leaders, and a desire in every heart towards a lasting hope that we know to have come into our world through Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and returning to make all things right for good.

Christ, have mercy, as we move together from this suffering into the remarkable love that is in You.

Keith Hileman

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