The Lessons of Two Fridays

It strikes me that Friday, December 14 and Friday, December 21 have something in common--and taken together give us an invaluable, if painful, reminder. Last Friday, December 14 a deranged 20 year-old gunman broke into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, massacring 20 first-graders, several teachers, and prior to this, his mother. He then took his own life. This horror has shocked the nation and the world; and yet it seems that incidents like these are on the rise. Gun control debates are heating up; schools are implementing stricter security measures; legislatures are looking for increased mental health screening and funding. We're desperate to do something, anything, to stop the violence. And that's a good and right impulse. But...after taking the appropriate steps, if we're able, we must also acknowledge: there is no such thing as perfect safety. The human problem behind the Sandy Hook shootings goes much deeper than gun control. Our world and we who live in it are deeply broken. To think that we can solve this problem in our own brokenness is deluded. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't institute wise measures or seek to protect the weak and innocent in our midst. It's simply to acknowledge: these are bandaids on the problem. We are not the ultimate solution to our own problems. The crisis is too deep for that.

And then there's this Friday, December 21, the supposed end of the world, according to the ancient Mayan "long calendar". While we can lump this eschatological prediction together with other mistaken prophecies of the end, we might want to pause a minute. I suspect I'm not the only one who's wondered in quiet moments, "Hmm, you never know...what if this really WAS the end of the world?" I believe there's a latent end-times anxiety in many of us. If there weren't, we wouldn't be seeing such broad coverage of this in the news. The idea that the world might end unexpectedly is so deeply-rooted in Western thought that it fuels everything from the rise of self-appointed prophets leading millenarian cults to apocalyptic box-office gold. Sure, we can say to ourselves, "I'm sure this Friday will just be one more failed prophecy." And, likely, it will be. But...let's not make the materialist mistake in believing that, on the contrary, the world will roll on forever. And let's not foolishly think that somehow we can shape, prevent, or otherwise avoid any kind of End (through environmental, militaristic, economic, pacifistic, or legislative means). That's back to the arrogant assumption that we, in our brokenness, can solve the world's brokenness. Bandaids on the wound, again. The crisis is much too deep for that.

The bottom line is we're not in control. There's in us and among us an inescapable, pervasive brokenness (what the Bible calls sin) that is too deep and too profound for us to change in our own strength. We may pass laws on gun control. We'll still have tragic shootings. We may think that history cycles on endlessly (the ancient Sumerian thought this) but even astrophysics teaches us that the world will end someday. We can either grow more anxious about these limitations of ours...or we can confess our desperate need to control our lives and world and acknowledge that even in this scary place there's an invitation: to kneel before God and recognize our dependence--and the biblical testimony to God's faithfulness. We need the words of Psalm 46, especially verse 10: "Be still, and know that I am God!" Only God--and the hope God offers in Jesus Christ and his resurrection--is big enough to handle the crises behind these two Fridays.

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