Giving Full Vent to Our Anguished Souls

Brothers and Sisters,

No doubt you’ve heard about the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children, 2 teachers dead, and an entire community in utter agony.

It’s difficult to know what to say in light of these unspeakably awful events. If you’re like me, then perhaps you’re experiencing a swirl of barely-processed emotions:

  • Sadness… for the families of these children and teachers, especially as I struggle to imagine what I would feel if I were in their place.
  • Anger… at the obviously disturbed young man who did this horrible thing, and at the community of people around him who “should’ve” seen this coming.
  • Fear… that I’m sending my kids into a world in which they run the risk (however small it may be) of being gunned down by some psychopath.
  • Confusion… that a good God would allow such horrors. The darkened glass through which we see seems a whole lot darker on days like this one (1 Cor 13:12).
  • Frustration… with the predictably rancorous way our national conversation is already unfolding. This is not the time to circle the wagons and assert that nothing can be done or to liken skeptics of sweeping anti-gun legislation to those who would sacrifice our nation’s children before Moloch. Now’s the time to grieve.

We live in a fallen world where atrocities take place every day. The unique challenge for us is finding a way to deal—spiritually, psychologically, emotionally—with the seeming contradiction between a good, sovereign God and the thick presence of evil.

I could give you a sophisticated defense of God’s goodness and sovereignty in light of the world’s horrors (a theodicy, as it’s called). But the treatment Scripture prescribes for moments like these isn’t an exercise in theological reasoning; it’s lament.

God invites us to come to Him with our sadness, anger, fear, confusion, frustration, and any other emotion we may find bubbling up inside. This is what Habakkuk did (Hab 1:2-4) when he grew weary of his people’s suffering at the hands of foreign enemies:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not hear?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see iniquity,

and why do you idly look at wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law is paralyzed,

and justice never goes forth.

For the wicked surround the righteous;

so justice goes forth perverted.

In honest prayer, Habakkuk struggles to reconcile God’s promise to bless His chosen people with the cursed reality of sin and violence that surrounds them. He does not hold back but gives full vent to his frustration. Why aren’t you listening, God? Why won’t you save us? Why do you sit idly by as your people suffer? Where is your justice right now?

God does not rebuke Habakkuk for his honest prayer of lament. Rather, He calls him to trust that He is doing a work that defies human understanding (v. 5):

Look among the nations, and see;

wonder and be astounded.

For I am doing a work in your days

that you would not believe if told.

Even now, God provides the same answer to us. Unlike Habakkuk, though, we are not given the details. We’re not given the divine rationale behind what we see. Why? Because we’ve already glimpsed it in the cross, where the Son of God took the full weight of sin and violence upon His shoulders to reconcile all things (Col 1:20).

When unspeakable tragedy leaves us reeling, God calls us to join Habakkuk in our prayers of lament: “Where are you, God? Are you even listening? Where is justice?” He invites us to imitate the psalmists (Pss 6, 10, 38, 42-43, to name just a few)—to lift our aching hearts before His throne of grace and ask Him, in the vein of Ps 22:1, “Why have you forsaken us?”

This is not faithlessness; it is faith. Faithlessness succumbs to despair; it does not ask God, “why.” Rather, it presumes He is either dead or asleep at the switch. But the way of lament calls us to vent our souls in faith and wait patiently as He opens our eyes to grasp the wonders of the cross and receive the deep comfort that only our faithful High Priest can provide.

Yesterday was a sad and difficult day. Today will likely be as bad—if not worse. Don’t be a “good Christian” and pretend everything is hunky-dory. It’s not, and God knows it’s not.

Let’s all bow before God in honest, prayerful lament as we weep over this tragedy and intercede on behalf of those who’ve suffered such an immense loss. With the vent of our anguished souls wide open, may we receive grace beyond measure from the Man of Sorrows who is well acquainted with our grief (Isa 53:3).

Your brother in Christ,