A prayerful meditation for when guns are used to end human life…
As the U.S. processes another mass shooting, with reactions ranging from rage to grief to fear to incredulity, we might find companion voices among the Bible’s prophets and psalms. They evoke the full range of emotion in response to injustice, calling us to solidarity, lament, repentance, and a courageous hope.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save? (Habakkuk 1:2)
We watch the footage,
read the report,
hear the tumult.
Do you not also see and hear, O Lord?
These are your children, bodies broken with the flick of a trigger.
These are your children, breaking bodies with the flick of a trigger.
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise. (Habakkuk 1:3)
It’s hard to look.
It’s hard to look away.
The barrage of violence in media (fiction and non-fiction alike) is so overwhelming that our only options for coping are to seek it out as entertainment or grow so overwhelmed that we can no longer confront it without shutting down. In both cases, the result is desensitization, which normalizes violence and expectations for violence.
(How long before we forget a world without metal detectors in schools?)
It takes patient, spiritual discipline to cultivate a different response, one that truthfully accounts for violent action, remains vigilant against it, and continues to believe God’s hope for a world in which mass shootings are not a regular occurrence.
One way of doing this is to learn about and grieve the victims.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails. (Habakkuk 1:4a)
It is hard to imagine justice under such circumstances. Cries go out for better mental healthcare, better gun laws, better security measures, better values, better social responsibility, and the list goes on. Mennonite Central Committee has been advocating excellent measures for gun violence prevention for years.
Yet justice requires repentance: the admission of wrongdoing, the willingness to change, and taking concrete steps towards that change. If there is justice for the victims and their families in Las Vegas, it comes from a society confessing its misplaced search for safety, its fearful reliance on weapons of mass shootings, and its economic and political strategies driving the international arms trade – and then seeking to make it right.
Save us, O Lord, from our iniquity.
Help us reshape narratives of violence with narratives of creation.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah (Psalm 46:1-3)
In a 2015 essay titled “Fear,” Marilynne Robinson suggests a two-part thesis about gun violence: “first, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” We worship a God known for encouragement against fear (“Be not afraid”) and follow a Lord who proclaimed freedom for the oppressed even though it cost him his life.
Can we trust in God rather than guns?
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Psalm 46:10-11)