As Americans, and as Christians, we are reeling from the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX on Sunday. We have more questions than answers. We grieve for this tiny community which lost so many lives in an attack driven by unadulterated evil.
Last month these words of John Calvin, from nearly 5 centuries ago, came to my attention. They remain sound advice for us who face tragedies of our own time. In 2 Samuel 1 King David is grieving the loss of King Saul and his son, David’s beloved friend Jonathan. Expanding upon the Scriptural account, Calvin comments as follows.
We can see how God is afflicting the world today. Even people who are strangers to us are related to us, because we are all made in the image of God, and have a common nature which should be a mutual bond of love and brotherhood. Then there is a far closer union between ourselves and the suffering of believers who are scattered here and there in all churches which God has chastened on every side.
Indeed, we see troubles everywhere; we see fires burning; we hear that the throats of poor innocent people have been cut; that they have been subjected to mockery and contempt, and that they are being led to the slaughter. We see the enemies of truth ready to annihilate everything, and we do not know what God is intending to do. Nevertheless, see how his sword is unsheathed. The fire, as I have said, is kindled and we do not know how far it will burn.
Let us thus allow ourselves to be genuinely touched by mourning, anxiety and grief so that we will not be careless, hardened, or unfeeling over what our poor brothers are going through. Instead, let us have the kind of compassion towards them which members of the same body owe to one another. On the other hand, let us not give way to despair, like those who have become so grieved and full of lamentation that they refuse the remedy of consolation in God. Rather, let us confess our sins, knowing that our savior has not ceased to pour out his blessings upon us, even though we have sinned. Then, in the midst of our sorrows, let us recognize all our offenses so that he may show himself merciful to us, as he always has done to those who clearly take refuge in him. (John Calvin, Sermon on 2 Samuel 1, 1562).
The conflict with evil has not abated in 500 years. May God help us to “mourn with those who mourn” while maintaining our confidence in the Lord’s sovereign purposes. Let us support in our prayers those who have experienced such tragic loss at the hands of a madman. And let us not fail to recognize the fragile grip we have on life in this world, how quickly it can be shattered, and how vital it is to make each moment count in light of eternity to come.