Disbelief, shock, denial, heaviness, confusion, mourning – those were some of the words I felt deeply as I first heard of the tragic murders of nine innocent Christians who worshipped at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina this past Wednesday night. How could anyone sit through a prayer service with passionate people of God, espouse hate-filled lies at them, and proceed to murder them? It doesn’t seem real. I pray justice is served. But whatever punishment is given will pale in comparison to the heartache and devastating aftermath caused by such a hate-filled and vicious crime. Not to minimalize this horrific hate crime, this was not just a targeted brutal attack on race but on all Christians and the Church as well. These were my brothers and sisters too – killed as they worshipped the Lord. I too feel this pain and grieve alongside the families and church. Nine killed. Hundreds left grieving. Thousands immersed in shock and disbelief. Millions need answers and healing.
Jesus understands our sorrows. He is a man of sorrows, acquainted with our suffering (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus understands because He carried our sorrows (v. 4). Jesus weeps with us (John 11:35) in this tragedy as He did when Lazarus had died. His sympathy and grief as a human yet God prove His extended compassion in times of tragedy and sorrow. But why didn’t Jesus stop this mad man from taking the lives of these innocent worshippers? Ask yourself this question: Why didn’t He stop Lazarus from dying? People asked the same thing of Jesus when He was late and Lazarus had died. Where was He? And when he wept, was he was crying because of regret, being powerless to do anything? Is that the case today? No. Jesus was weeping for Lazarus and with his sisters just as He weeps for the murdered nine and with us today. He was powerful enough to raise Lazarus back from death and will raise eternally those of the nine who were saved. He arrived on time to mourn with those who mourned and His Spirit mourns with us today. He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
We need time to grieve – but Believers grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Jesus needed time to grieve when He found out John the Baptist, His cousin (six months apart) and best friend, was murdered by madmen. John 14:13 says Jesus withdrew privately to a solitary place to grieve. Jesus would never let John’s life and witness be forgotten (John 21:23ff) and we too must not let the world forget those nine who died while worshipping the Lord. While horrific, tragic, heartbreaking and pointless, these nine were murdered in church while worshipping. Imagine worshipping the Lord on earth one moment and in the very next moment being transported to His very presence! I’ve always said the perfect way for me to die is while preaching. Could these have been praying with eyes closed in church only to open them in heaven? Could these have been worshipping with hands lifted high towards heaven only to embrace heaven as it had now become a sweet reality? While these thoughts may offer some peace we have questions – some that will never fully be answered in this lifetime.
Facts of this crime will not suffice for healing. Speculation of intent, while obviously motivated by hate, will not bring ultimate peace. True peace and comfort come only through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. While we can never fully know peace and comfort from why, we can fully know peace and comfort from Who – Jesus. My heart is heavy, my prayers are constant, and my resolve is to continue in the faith. I will continue attending prayer meetings with faith, without fear, with brothers and sisters, and welcoming all who desire to join as I hope you do as well. I will never fully understand this tragedy but one day will understand fully in Heaven. I take heart in a troubled world because Jesus has overcome this world (John 16:33). Cast your cares on Him – He cares for you.