The past several weeks have been difficult ones for the state of Colorado. Forest fires have burned and destroyed countless acres of trees and moved swiftly into neighborhoods with homes and schools. As if this were not enough to burden the local residents, the mayhem and violence of a gunman walking into a movie theater and opening fire on dozens of moviegoers has simply shocked and frightened the nation.
Often, when tragedies such as these strike we are tempted to ask the question - Why? Why do forest fires burn uncontrollably into residential neighborhoods, and why do people do things like shoot automatic weapons into a full theater. I confess that asking 'why' is one of my first gut reactions, too, when I see things like these happen. But, I have come to realize that even if I knew the answer to that question, the fact remains that it happened, and not only did it happen, it's effects include damage, death, pain and suffering. These things are not somehow magically erased by my knowing the answer to the 'why' question.
My faith informs my response to such difficult and hard to imagine realities. My faith calls me to prayer. Our fear-ridden, and shock-struck culture would lead me to believe that prayer is a fruitless response to such events. People might say: "Prayer is a cop-out from actually trying to stop bad things from happening." or "Prayer is passive and powerless so why do it?!"
But, prayer is the most powerful thing anyone can do in response to forest fires, and rogue gunmen. Prayer begins by acknowledging in its humility that we not only will not depend on vengeance or fear-based responses to deal with life's tragedies. Rather, we will depend upon the strength of the One who created all things, redeemed all things, and sustains all things. Prayer reveals that we trust ultimately not in the answer to the 'why' question; but, the personal divine presence that promises those who mourn will be comforted, that one day all tears will be wiped away, and that there is hope for this broken world, because God has not abandoned us to our brokenness. He did something, and is doing things all the time that change the game. The big question for me in response to these tragedies, and every tragedy is this: will I allow myself to react out of fear and vengeance, or will I respond in faith through prayer for grace, provision and hope. I don't want to live my life in fear, I want to live in faith and walk in the confidence that God knows it all, sees it all, walks with us all, and in the end will sort it all out.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit - may your grace and peace be present for the people of Colorado. May those who have lost their homes find solace in your providence for their needs. May those who have felt fear in the face of these fires know courage and hope for the rebuilding of what they have lost. May those who ran for their lives from the wild violence of that gunman in the theater know that you are with them. Grant the families of the victims comfort in their mourning. Grant the wounded swift and total recovery. Speak words of comfort to the community and lift up brotherly and sisterly love for neighbors one to another. Lord, we cannot see into the heart and mind of this man who somewhere lost his way and found himself in this dark and hurtful place. We pray for him, too. We pray that you would bring him to the exposing light of your truth that even he may know your grace for him, inspite of the pain and suffering he has caused through his choices. May Colorado know the peaceful presence of your Holy Spirit, and may communities bind together in support and encouragement of one another. Amen.