I can’t imagine, but I need to.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like at First Baptist Sutherland Springs, Texas last Sunday. People gathered to worship and hear a visiting preacher while their pastor was out of town. Songs were sung. The Word was being proclaimed. Then Devin Kelley came into the sanctuary firing his weapons.
What if I had been in the room? Maybe I would have been the guest preacher, the most inviting target. Would I have shouted for everyone to get down? Would I have rushed the gunman to protect others? Would I have stared in shock, never believing this could happen?
What if I had been seated beside my wife and children? Would I try to cover them with my body? What if they were hit by a bullet? Would I try to hold them and tell them I love them? Would I try to stop the bleeding? How would I feel if while shots rained around me, I watched the light of life go out of their eyes?
What if I was Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of the church? Imagine getting the call. “Frank, I don’t know how to tell you this, but a crazy gunman shot up the church today. We’ve got more than twenty dead. And Frank, your daughter Annabelle, fourteen, she’s one of the dead.” How does a man cope? How does he eat or sleep? Shock may be God’s blessing.
If I was Frank Pomeroy, I imagine I would be overwhelmed. Literally every house in town needs pastoral care. A hospital full of wounded people need a pastor. There are twenty funerals to do. There is my own grief for my daughter. I would have to do ministry and grieve in the glare of national news coverage. What do you say at each funeral?
I can’t imagine what it will be like for this church in the years to come. Sutherland Springs is added to a list no community wants to be on: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Charleston, and Las Vegas. After the satellite trucks have packed up and moved on to the next tragedy, this church will still be grieving. They are experiencing the ultimate test of faith, the test of Job: Will I still seek God though I have lost everything? Or will I curse God and let my faith die?
I can’t imagine what the first Sunday back in the building will be like. Like closing the barn door after the horse is gone, I’m sure there will be plenty of protection. But to be in the room where so many died, where evil was so manifest – I can’t imagine.
I can’t imagine. God can.
God has to live with this sort of thing every day. Because he is near to the broken hearted, whether they are in Texas or Pakistan, God sees this, enters it, and gives hope, strength, and comfort. I can’t imagine the horror that God deals with every day.
Why doesn’t God put a stop to it? C.S. Lewis said, “Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having… If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”
To truly follow Jesus means we need to imagine what God feels when tragedy happens. Imagine how God feels when a shooter enters his church. Imagine how his heart hurts when he sees bullets go through the bodies of his children.
Now imagine how much God must love us to send his Son to have nails driven through his body, so all this evil could be forgiven.
I can’t imagine, but I need to.