Tragedy at Tree of Life

Over the past weeks, I’ve been encouraging pastors and servant leaders to think theologically. As storms rage in the culture, as rhetoric rises to a fever pitch, as we become confused by daunting questions about the Christian’s role in our swiftly changing and dangerous society, and as our hearts break over chaotic violence, we are called to seek God’s understanding and wisdom. “Theology” means “God’s Word.” By God’s grace, we do not conform to the world (Romans 12:2); we have been given a new way to think. We have been given “the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16

With this mind, and seeing through the lens of God’s Word, we face tragedy, once again. After a madman’s bombs flooded mailboxes, another madman—filled with hate—burst into Tree of Life Synagogue and brutally killed precious human beings during their Sabbath worship.

Along with our nation and the Jewish community, we shed tears of grief and feel the pain of senseless and terrible loss. Along with the Tree of Life community, we lift up cries to the God of heaven to be our refuge and strength during this time of trouble.

As citizens of the United States, we are free to engage in conversations about measures that may help stem the tide of the wave of violence brutally barraging our hearts. But as followers of Jesus, do we have anything to add? Are there any remedies God’s Word offers to our broken world and fallen lives? Yes—and powerful ones at that.

First, God gives the gift of prayer. He invites, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalms 50:15. The Word of God promises: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16 Do not underestimate the impact of your prayers to change hearts from violence to peace.

Second, God gives the gift of faith. In the Luke 18 parable of the unjust judge, Jesus said, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” Then Jesus asked, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:7–8 Even as storms rage, God promises to be faithful. The theology of the cross does not give us a multiple-choice option about the kind of God we want. All of us would prefer that God eliminates violence and evil right now. But the only way God has revealed Himself to us is as the One who suffers with us and for us. Will we trust and hold onto His presence and promise?

Third, God gives the gift of love. 1 John 4:10 proclaims, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” With this gift, you and I bring to the world the love of Jesus that transforms hearts. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 Thinking theologically means investing in the gift of love as much as God Himself has through His Son.

Fourth, God gives the gift of hope—eternal hope. It is a unique gift to a trembling world. The apostle Peter urged Christians in the world: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 To every agonized “Why?” and “How long?” we have a gentle, comforting and strong answer of hope in Jesus. We are here to declare the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Is this kind of thinking naïve or foolish? How can any of these remedies work against bullets and bombs? This is how: Set against the backdrop of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, there was another tragedy near another tree of life when humans rebelled against God (see Genesis 3). Death became the prevailing and unstoppable shadow over humanity. But then came a promise. And then came Jesus. He walked the earth during the first century and did something no one had ever done. His cross of violence and death became the new tree of life for the world. He addressed evil and death head-on. And this real person, the true God present in history, triumphed over death when He rose from the dead. Rescue, eternal hope, and transformation are real through the risen Savior of the world.

Today, as humanity manifests a fierce and unrelenting evil, we know that our battle is not merely against flesh and blood. Let us think and live theologically. Let us have the mind of Christ during these dark times. Let us pray, believe, love and share hope in Jesus.

By Rev. Michael Newman
Texas District President

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