Note: The following column will appear in the March/April 2018 issue of Influence magazine. I wrote it prior to yesterday’s deadly shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Its purpose is to encourage local congregations to respond holistically to people’s needs when tragedy strikes their community.
The deadliest mass shooting in the United States took place the night of October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, leaving 58 dead and 851 injured. In the aftermath of that shooting, people across America took to social media to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. Their sentiment was heartfelt, but was it enough?
According to the Bible, the answer is no.
James 2:15–16 says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
No good at all.
Similarly, 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
It can’t be. So, John exhorts us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (verse 18).
Words are insufficient responses to a tragedy, crisis or need unless we pair them with deeds.
By the same token, however, deeds also are insufficient responses to a tragedy if we fail to pair them with words and prayers.
Why? Because we have minds as well as bodies. We need to know that our lives have meaning, that our pain has a purpose. According to the apostle Paul, being at “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” enables us to make sense of our suffering. We can “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:1,3–4).
Consequently, an authentic Christian response to tragedy combines deeds and words, action and prayer, help and hope. It’s a both/and effort, not an either/or choice.
Let me close by suggesting three concrete needs victims have that your church should provide if — God forbid! — tragedy strikes your community.
First, victims need shelter, a safe place where their immediate physical and material needs are met. Providing shelter is a Matthew 25:34–36 ministry to the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned.
Second, victims need shoulders to cry on, a community that affirms their emotional response to loss. Responding with empathy is a Romans 12:15 ministry: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Paul teaches us; “mourn with those who mourn” (emphasis added).
Third, victims need shepherds. Helping people find meaning in their suffering is a Psalm 23:2 ministry. It leads them to the “green pastures” and “quiet waters” of faith in God.
When tragedy hits, people’s immediate needs are for shelter and shoulders. Over the long term, though, as they mentally and emotionally process their experience, they increasingly need shepherds. Your church will do a great service to the community if it’s prepared to respond to people’s needs holistically in times of tragedy.