I was transferring my text books from my locker into my school bag when a fellow student burst into the sixth-form common room.
“You,” she said, with eyes full of fire and fury, “you’re a Christian. Where was God when this happened?”
She indicated the headline on the newspaper. Sixteen children and one adult had been shot dead in a primary school in Dunblane, a small town in Scotland.
I don’t know what I said in response. But I do know that her impotent rage had transferred to me. Over the next few weeks and months I pondered that question. Where is God in the suffering? I was confused and angry.
On Friday, I heard about the Newtown, Connecticut shooting via Twitter.
This time I was not confused and angry. I read the stories and wept. I just couldn’t stop crying. I kept thinking of the parents, the terrified children, the bewildered teachers, the blood in the corridor, the unopened Christmas presents, the helplessness. I had no words, just tears.
Meanwhile, the words were pouring out on Twitter and Facebook. Words of heroism telling the stories of teachers who died whilst hiding children in a closet, teachers who shielded children with their own body. Words of outrage and calls for reform of gunlaws. Words of judgements of God. Words of investigation, and trying to understand, pronouncing the gunman crazy, calling for all who are mentally ill to be put on a list ‘like a sex offenders register‘. Words of anger at the allegation that all mentally ill are potential murderers.
Some of the words overpowered me and sickened me, others like Sarah Bessey’s lament, Lore Ferguson’s reflections on Christ, Ed Cyzewski’s advice to avoid Facebook and Danny Webster’s thoughts on silence I found healing.
I had no words. I wanted to stand alongside those who were mourning in silence and sorrow. Like Obama predicted, I held my boy a little more tightly that night. I cried as we prayed the Lord’s prayer together, and he explained to God that Mummy was upset because of a nasty man.
The two shootings affected me deeply, emotionally. But there was something different this time.
I studied my Twitter timeline, considering the various reactions as expressions of grief. There was denial and disbelief: ‘how could something like this happen here, in this safe town?’ The same words had been said about Dunblane. There was anger: people calling for gun law reform, people arguing against gun law reform. There was depression, sorrow – and relief and guilt that it wasn’t us, it wasn’t our children.
But it struck me that there was an undercurrent of another emotion. I pondered society’s all-consuming desire to understand what had motivated the killer, to label him as mentally ill, to pronounce on the cause and the cure. We want to understand so we can stop it ever happening again. We want to fix it. And as I held my boy tightly, I realised I was feeling something I hadn’t done with Dunblane: fear.
And that’s because I am a parent now. I want to believe I can protect my child from sickness: we get him immunised. I want to believe I can protect him from traffic accidents: we fasten his seatbelt, we teach him the Green Cross Code. I want to believe I can protect him from people who would harm him: we research the best nurseries and schools who will have a rigorous Child Protection policy.
But how can you protect a child from this? Guns are a definite factor, but they are not the whole story.
It is deeper. It is that sinister, mocking face that comes to us in our nightmares, that in daylight, in our middle-class circles, we like to pretend we have conquered. We believe it happens in movies and to other people, but not to us; we have built our fences and it cannot touch us.
It is that dark thread running through the world and in each of us: it is evil. How can you protect a child from evil?
I hold my boy tightly to me, and say these words with renewed conviction as we recite the Lord’s prayer,
“Deliver us from evil.”
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You spoke my heart, friend. Thank you for your thoughtful, reflective words. I’m so grateful for you and other voices likes yours speaking truth, love, grace, compassion.
Such a powerful piece and a great reminder of the complexity and consuming nature of mental illness plus the final omnipotent power of God. I love that you end in the Lord’s prayer.
Seeking Him, humbled by all that’s happened,
What happened in Newtown was horrible, but it’s the so-many-deaths-at-once that provokes us to feel deeper than the slow, more mundane killers of kids and young people: traffic collisions and suicide.
Media reporting of tragedies like Friday’s not only increase the fear level, and cause us to misplace our fear, they also make future tragedies more likely by the way in which they report them.
Anyway, how do we deliver ours and other people’s kids from evil? Fight car dependency. Get kids to regain independence and active lifestyles (good for mental as well as physical health). Fight car-centric planning done or approved by myopic local authorities.
Read this article, which includes an extract from The Flying King by Terry Jones of Monty Python.
““While we obsess about knife [or, in this case, gun] crime and drugs, the real killers of our young are transport and suicide.””
There’s also this, a plea for perspective post-Newtown:
I hope this doesn’t come across as heartless. We need to mourn, to ask why, to act. But we must be careful to make calls for action that will make the most difference in the long term, based on evidence; fear- and feelings-based action can do more harm than good in the heat of the moment.
While I applaud your campaign for better road safety, I don’t think road traffic accidents can be described as evil in quite the same way as a gun-wielding murderer. I think most people understand that drivers don’t step into their cars intending to kill. We want to protect children from harm, all harm, including road accidents and depression which leads to suicide – but calling road traffic accidents ‘evil’? I’m just not sure about that.
Yes, we in South Africa are also stunned by this massacre. We once had a friend who said that of you out-law guns, only out-laws would have guns. In South Africa we have strict gun laws and it doesn’t really stop the needless violence.
I have South African friends here in England who said what a difference it made coming to live here. They hate the weather, the culture, but they love the fact that they don’t walk in fear at night. It’s a good thing for me to remember and feel thankful for.
My children were 5, 3 and 1 at the time of Dunblane and I identify very much with what you have written here. The day is seared on my memory in the same way as 9/11 and 7/7 are. We can’t protect our children from evil but my prayer would be that this profound sense of connection with other families – which as you point out Obama himself has spoken of – can be a catalyst for decisions that will bring about a safer future for them. I remember a funeral service for a young man aged 20 who died in a terrible accident. The church was literally crammed with people and the preacher said something like ‘at times like this it is as if a window opens and we are able to make decisions in the light of what really matters but no matter how raw you feel today I can guarantee that the window will close and the need to change will no longer seem so important’. They are words that resonate with me today.
Wow. What a powerful thing that preacher said. It’s true – we are lazy creatures, and it takes a lot for society to bring about positive change. It seems that way, at any rate. I am really hoping that this will be a catalyst for a change in gun control in America – though I am aware that as someone outside the situation I don’t fully know or understand the context.
I held my children thinking the same. I prayed that God would be with the families of those tragic victims, but I also prayed that he would continue to protect my children from evil.
Its easy to tell people that this life is a blink of an eye compared to forever, I say it all the time. When I think of families torn apart by the death of a loved one through illnesses such as Cancer, I comfort myself with the knowledge that one day they will be together forever, in heaven. BUT, I just can’t comfort myself with that this time. I feel scared for my children, they are so vulnerable, so fragile, and so so so precious to me, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. I pray every night that I won’t ever have to live a day without them.
I try not to dwell on it, a mother can drive herself mad thinking of how vulnerable her kids are. Most of time I don’t have to think of it, but when things like this happen, we all have to reassess the safety of our children, we all have to think about evil and what it can do, and we all imagine what our lives would be like if it was one of our kids…AND ITS SCARY AS HELL!
Thank you, lovely Karmen for voicing so well all my secret fears! For some reason, knowing others also feel fearful takes away some of the power of the fear, though I don’t know why. It’s hard to know what to do with the fear, isn’t it? I think acknowledging its existence is a start, though.
How do we protect those we love? We do a lot of things in the name of protection and security but it really comes down to this. Only with God and in God is there true security and even that might not be like we want. The evil we want to rant and rail about is found in us. Only by the power of God’s saving grace do we not all commit evil and even with that we still do. No not to the magnitude of those atrocious acts but evil never the less is in the world and will be until God comes again. Knowing this we must fight every day to let light shine against the evil in our world; fight to let in shine first in our soul and then outward to the part of the world we maneuver in. May God help us to let his light shine in us; through us and to fight against that which so easily corrupts the world.
You are exactly right, Mark. Evil will continue…and grow worse and worse in these final days. Only when the Prince of Peace returns will peace prevail. But people just aren’t ‘getting it’. Yesterday my husband and I watched a Canadian news programme, and the question was posed, “What must be done to prevent producing more people like this maniacal killer who took so many lives in Newtown, CT.?” My husband said, “What if we went back to posting the 10 Commandments on classroom walls? What if we had our children return to bowing heads in honour and submission to Almighty God, praying the Lord’s Prayer, like they used to? What if the schools stopped teaching evolution as ‘fact’? What if we removed all the heinous T.V. programming like ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘CSI’ and ALL those stupid, useless vampire/paranormal programmes that we air in the name of ‘entertainment’. Evil and perversion is glorified in our world today. And we’ve raised generations to believe that there is no one higher or greater than ourselves. We are answerable to no one. This is what ‘evolution’ has done for us! It is a lie straight from the pit. The world needs CHANGED HEARTS. ‘We’ have worked so very hard to remove God from our homes and schools—we are reaping what we’ve sown.
You and your husband are right. We have taken away that which uplifts and exposed ourselves to that which twist. We need to work on our own hearts first and then interact with others to fight against evil that laws and enforcement can only react to.
Mark and Jillie – I think you are both right in arguing that the darkness goes deeper than that which we can legislate for and control. We also can’t really legislate for/control people submitting to God as their Lord and Saviour. Sometimes the most powerful thing a Christian can do is pray, though it rarely feels like that.