Lament & Hope
The recent mass shooting in Buffalo, NY and Dallas, TX––violence reportedly rooted in the vile ideology of white supremacy–– as well as the shooting in Laguna Woods, CA, and many more suspected to be hate crimes, has left us heartbroken and angry. Like so many incidents before, these mass shootings and all racially motivated violence are reminders of the brokenness and evil that pervades society. Like many others, we are tired of having to attend memorials, tired of leading prayer vigils, tired of going to and doing funerals, tired of protesting injustice, and tired of arguing about what the Lord requires of us amid injustice.
The words of the prophet Habakkuk too often seem applicable to our own lament: How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4). We know we are not alone in this lament, anger, and desire for justice. And so, we stand with others in their grief.
First and foremost, we acknowledge the precious image-bearers, those worthy of dignity and honor, whose lives were taken.
Also, for the families and friends of these individuals, we pray for comfort. For the churches and church leaders pastoring their congregations in these communities, we pray for wisdom. For the law enforcement and government officials investigating these crimes, we pray for resolve. For the perpetrators of such wickedness, we pray for repentance and that Your justice be done.
Today as we continue to grieve, we also remember the final words from the same prophet. Famously, after this great lament, Habakkuk ends with a prayer of hope––hope in the midst of grief. He says, Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
What produces that kind of response in the midst of violent injustice? It is knowing that evil, sin, and wickedness do not get the final word. Rather, our Savior––a Savior who will one day come with justice, whose eyes are blazing like fire, and who has written on his thigh, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19)––has the final say. He is the one who promises that “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” (Revelation 21:4)
The Calling of Shalom
Until that day, the comfort of Christian grief in the midst of sorrow is that we serve a Savior who was a man of sorrows. The hope in Christian lament is Christ shall return with power and authority to crush the head of all evil and injustice. The resolve of Christian proclamation is that the Spirit of God is working in and through us until that coming day of restoration. Christians then, by the empowerment of the Spirit, must be a people who reflect the shalom––the experience of no grief, no evil, no injustice, no poverty, no oppression––that comes when Christ finally returns. While we cannot usher in that perfect shalom (for only Christ can do so), Christians must proclaim the coming of this shalom and resolve to confront any force that undermines that shalom.
In this book, Until Justice and Peace Embrace, Nicolas Wolterstorff’s chapter “For Justice in Shalom,” unpacks what shalom is and what it means for Christians now. He notes that shalom is when one is at peace “with God, with self, with fellows, with nature” (p. 69). While each is vital for understanding shalom, given the moment, we want to hone in on what he says concerning peace “with fellows,” that is with other people. He says the peace, which is "shalom, is not merely the absence of hostility, not merely being in right relationship. Shalom at its highest is enjoyment in one’s relationships.” He goes on to say that “there can be delight in community only when justice reigns, only when human beings no longer oppress one another” (70).
Additionally, he goes on to argue that true shalom is an “ethical community” where even if there are no feelings of hostility, but unjust situations where people do not experience justice or the enjoyment of their rights, then shalom is not present.
“Can the conclusion be avoided that not only is shalom God's cause in the world but that all who believe in Jesus will, along with him, engage in the works of shalom? Shalom is both God's cause in the world and our human calling. Even though the full incursion of shalom into our history will be divine gift and not merely human achievement, even though its episodic incursion into our lives now also has a dimension of divine gift, nonetheless it is shalom that we are to work and struggle for. We are not to stand around, hands folded, waiting for shalom to arrive. We are workers in God's cause, his piece-workers. This is the misso Dei.” (p. 72)
What does all this have to do with the current moment? Well, consider the racism, white supremacy, and/or cultural supremacy we see in society that manifested into violence in Buffalo, Dallas, Laguna Woods, and elsewhere. Some might be personally content to lack hostility toward others. This posture might say, “while I do not hate people of another race, and it is too bad that other people do, I am not responsible for their actions.” Or others might be content in knowing that shalom will be experienced when Christ returns one day. This posture might say, “I know that, in Christ, walls of hostilities have been torn down, but since people are still sinful, we just need to wait for Christ to return in order to experience that fully.” However, neither sufficiently reflects our call to be a people of shalom.
First, our personal lack of hostility says nothing about the hostilities that exist, to varying degrees, in the communities in which we live. As is being seen, the Buffalo shooter was discipled into his ideology, which means we must take responsibility for eliminating that form of discipleship and confronting its sources in all its forms. Second, the posture of standing “around, hands folded, waiting for shalom to arrive” rejects our calling to be a people who rightly proclaim that coming shalom in word and deed.
The point? Moments like these remind us of the work still to be done. If Christians hold blatantly sinful opinions about race, culture, and the like, we must confront that sin head-on. We know this tends not to be a controversial statement. But we must also take seriously that such sin does not exist in a vacuum. There are people peddling ideologies, or at minimum sympathizing with those ideologies, through various mediums that provide fuel for the fire of racism and the like. We must recognize our responsibility to confront that sin as well, regardless of our personal lack of hostilities. Why? Because we, as Christians, are called to be a people who work toward shalom until Christ comes.
Spirit of God, help us make it so.
-Justin & Abe