by Matthew McEwen
The tragedy in Connecticut has been described by many people using colourful words expressing disgust and horror, but situations like these expose the limitations of the English language. No words can truly define the horror, and words defy any search for an explanation. The limitation of words is also evident when you consider the incapability of offering comfort to those who grieve. What can you say?
Perhaps this is why Job’s friends did their best work in the early chapters of Job’s story, where they simply sat in silence with Job. Yet silence is uncomfortable and we feel the need to speak, to say something and fill the void. And much has been said and will continue to be said as the debates intensify.
My first thought when I heard this terrible news was to turn to Scripture and read from Matthew 2 and the rage of King Herod who gave orders to kill the boys in Bethlehem. This was also Bishop David Kendall’s reflection on his blog: http://fmcusa.org/davidkendall/2012/12/15/the-massacre-of-innocents/
The wonder at Christmas is that Jesus would enter into this dark and broken world, and with the season of advent (a word that means coming) we not only look back and remember the birth of a baby, but also look forward to His second coming. When Jesus comes again, He will judge the living and the dead and on that Glorious Day, God will make all things new. On that Day there will be no more mourning, or death, or crying, or sickness or pain. And so the prayer of the Church has been and will continue to be “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”
Others speaking about this tragedy focus on the topic of gun control, but a deeper root to this issue is mental health. A resource document on mental health is an ongoing project for SCOD. The statistics show that 72% people would freely share the information that a family member has cancer, but when the issue is mental health the number drops to 50%. A conversation about mental health must take place to offer people hope, assistance and remove the stigma associated with these illnesses. (http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/perspective.php).
Another response to the tragedy that I have seen has been Christians who lament the public school’s hostile environment towards Christianity. I have seen people lament that “God need to be put back into public schools”, or that “God can't be in schools anymore because He is not welcome there.” I’ve heard it said that “He won't force His way in where He is not wanted.” In making that final statement, people will then refer to the Warner Sallman painting of Jesus knocking on the door and mention that there is no handle on the outside and imply that we have to open the door to let Jesus in. John 20:19, however, is clear that locked doors are no barrier to Jesus.
Here is where Wesleyan theology needs to speak up and be heard. Jesus cannot be evicted from school because He remains with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized (Matthew 25:40). Even without the presence of Christians who are called to be salt and light in the world, the Holy Spirit is at work. Some parts of the Church family call it “Common Grace,” whereas we Wesleyans will speak of prevenient grace.
Prevenient grace “…is the grace that ‘comes before’ (pre-venio) we are conscious that God is seeking us out, using subtle, and not so subtle, nudges to awaken us to our true condition” (Runyon, 27). Before a person can enter into justification, there must be an awareness of sin for repentance to take place. This awakening is the work of the Holy Spirit in the act of prevenient grace. Therefore, “Christians are sent into the world knowing that the Spirit is preparing the way in the lives of those to whom they go…. If the Spirit is not intimidated by unbelief, should we be? Wesley’s ‘optimism of grace’ is a confidence grounded in the universal activity of God” (Runyon, 33-34).
The doctrine of prevenient grace means that God is at work in the world, and Christians have an opportunity to be a partner in the mission of God. Even without a single Christian in a public school that may be hostile towards Christianity, the Holy Spirit remains active in working in the lives of the students and teachers, preparing them for when they will encounter the next follower of Jesus. You can’t evict God, see Psalm 139 for more information.
The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today. Theodore Runyon, Abingdon Press, 1988.