Lamenting Las Vegas: An Alternate Approach to Tragedy

By: Kristen Borgdorff

Lament: [luh-ment] - noun, “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”

- verb, "to mourn"

 

"About five feet from me, you could see a guy with a bullet wound right in his neck, motionless, from there on . . . people just started dropping like flies," Taylor Benge reported to Fox 4 News as a witness of the shooting in Las Vegas on October 1st.

That evening, 58 people were killed and 546 injured when a lone gunman opened fire on Jason Aldean concertgoers at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

After hearing the news of this devastating shooting, I found myself feeling frustrated and helpless. What can I, a student at Redeemer University, do to make a difference in an event like the Las Vegas Shooting? Would my prayers actually change anything? What more can I do? Where was God in this event?

Sitting down with Dr. Naaman Wood, a professor in Redeemer's Media and Communications department, proved to be a helpful start in seeking answers to these bigger questions.

One of the first things Dr. Wood said after I expressed my feelings was this: “It’s okay to feel helpless and powerless . . . generally speaking, [we’ve] been trained to think about the world as filled with problems that we can solve. There are these things that are bigger than us . . . when you stare into it you just don’t know what to do because it’s so overwhelming.

The good news, as Christians, is what the crucifixion is for us: it’s the gaping abyss at the center of history where God says, ‘I’m going to enter into this.’ Every other abyss that we look into, God is already present and in the center of it.”

Many people respond to an event like the Las Vegas shooting by saying that we should all pray. “The bad thing [about this response]," explains Dr. Wood, "is it turns prayer into a band-aid. Just put this band-aid on it and everything will be fine. No. There are dead bodies in the street. A band-aid is not going to fix that. Prayer as a band-aid is a part of the imagination that says that all problems are fixable, that all you need is a little bit of prayer and everything will be fine.”

Next came the idea of prayer as a positive response, specifically when we pray from a position of lament. “I think one of the things that I’ve been persuaded of is that Christians, white Christians by far, have lost our ability to lament.

"Lamentation is not foreign to the Christian experience," says Dr. Wood, "but most of us haven’t been taught or trained to pray laments. For a lot of people, a lament feels like heresy. God, why have you abandoned me? Well, I [feel like I] can’t pray that because God can’t abandon me. But what if you feel like God has actually abandoned you? What do you do then? God already knows that you are going to experience that, and He’s given a slew of prayers to voice that.”

Psalm 22 is an example of this, where the psalmist writes, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Ps 22:1).

“Part of that helplessness you feel," Dr. Wood proposes, "is because no one’s given you the equipment to deal with that helplessness, and the laments are part of the equipment that God gives us to deal with that sense of helplessness. One of the first things to do is prayer, but not prayer as a band-aid — maybe one of the first things you need to do is just lament.

“If we’ve been trained to think that we can solve every problem that we encounter, the idea of lamenting for a period of time without coming to a solution seems wrong. It’s okay to lament for a while on that. It’s probably a really good thing to do, to just sit with the powerlessness for a while.

“And the reason we can sit with the powerlessness for a while is because we believe in a God who’s eventually going to put everything to right. We may not see that putting to rights on this side of the veil — it may be after —but that’s why we have hope. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus.”

Part of the problem may be the commonly held expectation of finding a solution in the here and now. Elaborating on this idea, Wood entailed how the history of Western progress — the fact that humans have achieved so much in such a short amount of time — often tells us that we, as humans, are capable to solve our own problems. However, this is not a reality we should accept. “Sin and brokenness are just that powerful; they cannot be overcome by us," we're reminded. "God needs to overcome them.”

Two of the things we should keep in mind as we live in this tension and press into the many problems of our world are these: “Number one, you might not be able to fix it. Number two, your solution might actually make things worse.”

At one point in the interview, a comment was made that initially raised red flags in my head. When asked where we can find God in this situation, Dr. Wood replied, “Jesus is a number among the dead . . . Jesus identifies with the weak and the poor.”

After hearing this, I voiced my unease. As Christians, we proclaim Jesus’ resurrection and that He is alive. Doesn’t numbering Him among the dead therefore contradict this core belief?

Dr. Wood agreed that, yes, this often does make us uncomfortable. “I do think that God is a God of the living, not of the dead," he clarifies. "Again, the thing that plagues us is that we want the resurrection without the crucifixion. So death and life you could say are contradictory. But part of what I think imaginatively holds things together is what we are constantly called to do. So we have to hold together crucifixion and resurrection. Because if you just hold the resurrection, then you’ve kind of lost the entire point of being a Christian — both of those things must be held together.”

When a tragic event such as the Las Vegas Shooting occurs, it can leave many of us feeling helpless and frustrated. We live in a society where we are taught that we can fix any problem that we encounter, when realistically, we need to recognize a world of sin that will only be wholly “solved” when Jesus returns. One thing we can do until then is turn our helplessness to prayers of lament, and discover in our powerlessness the constant need for God.