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Helping your teenagers process the Las Vegas massacre

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

An evil madman in Las Vegas ended the lives of 59 individuals and injured over 500. So here we are once again as a nation, as a culture and as individuals…trying to process an event that defies what most of us could even imagine in our darkest dreams.

First, there is the shock and utter disbelief. How does this kind of thing happen? Could it have been prevented somehow?

Then the insatiable craving for answers sets in. What was the shooter like? Who weremike-boening-116749.jpg the victims? And of course, the relentless media coverage is there to plaster every minute detail of the tragedy in our face. Yet no amount of information will get at the answers we are all seeking, because the spiritual reality is that the complete solution to this puzzle won’t be revealed on this side of eternity.

So as a Gospel Advancing youth leader, how do you help your students process this latest atrocity? How do you help your students find safe harbor in the midst of their understandable sea of anxiety, doubt, fear and questions about the presence of an all-powerful and loving God?

Here are two critical topics to talk to your students about as they continue to wrestle with this unspeakable incident.

Why, Why, Why, God?

First, when tragedy strikes, it’s crucial to remember that we can bring our fears and questions to God. Our faith is expansive enough to engulf every fear and question imaginable. In the Bible, the men and women who walked closest to God also carried some of the deepest doubt—especially the one described in Scripture as “a man after God’s own heart”—David:

Psalm 10:1 Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide in times of trouble?

Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

Psalm 44:23-24 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?

Psalm 74:1, 11 O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? … 11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?

Ask your students’ if their hearts have been echoing the feelings of King David. If they have, that’s actually a good thing! An eternal God is big enough to handle their uncertainties about this temporary existence.

Assure your students that God is in control, even in the chaos. He is sovereign, but He is not a micromanager of humans’ sinful choices. The freewill God grants us humans to choose to turn toward Him or away from Him, sometimes yields unspeakable consequences that crash into the lives of others and reach far beyond the perpetrator of the sinful actions.

But remind them that God is not Google…you can’t just input an inquiry and expect a nicely wrapped godopedia type answer. In fact, much of their healthy processing will come simply from knowing we have the freedom to ask. That’s why David answered his own questions about God with this response:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself…
(Psalm 131:1-2).

At some point in our struggles with tragedy it is possible to cross a line. When you approach the line between pleading and pride, it is best to sit in silence and acknowledge that God is God—and we are not…

Warning, Warning, Warning!

Second, consider the fact that when great evil occurs, it should serve as a warning of the greatest calamity that will ever take place –spending an eternity in hell:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:1-3).

This tragedy in Jesus’ day was a result of a sociopath named Pilate, who murdered innocent Galileans while they were worshipping God. Basically, this was the cultural equivalent of a public shooting. When this calamity occurred, the crowds wanted answers—and God Himself was on the scene.

What is amazing, though, is that Jesus doesn’t even try to explain the causes or solutions to the calamities. He purposely avoids going into a social discourse about the disintegration of society, or the effect that the violence in the coliseum has on people. Interestingly, He doesn’t even launch into a discussion about the tension between freewill and God’s sovereignty here.

Instead, Jesus speaks to this situation with a reminder of ultimate destiny: “…unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Does God Himself not know God’s answer on the subject? Not at all. He simply had a completely different perspective on tragedy, which is one that we must consider, as well.

Jesus didn’t look back and try to piece together the causality of these events. Neither did He issue a current political statement regarding immediate actions to be taken. Instead, He looked forward in order to remind everyone about the ultimate question: what will happen to me and my friends when we die? Because you never know when today may be your last day on this earth.

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings, remember that there are and will be many complicated and puzzling aspects that cause us to question the foundations of our reality. Yet in the midst of all the tragedy, questions, and confusion, keep Christ’s perspective close at hand. We must:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

The days were evil then and they are still evil today…but take heart! You and your students have been given a great opportunity to share the light of the gospel in the midst of darkness.

Moving past a terrible event like the Las Vegas shooting takes time, and even then there can be a lingering sadness in our hearts. But in the midst of this, let’s remember that the light shines brightest in the darkness, and it is in times like these that many people are most open to hearing the gospel.

May you and your students hold out the gospel like a beacon of hope in the darkness!

*This article was taken from Mobilize, Dare 2 Share‘s weekly encouragement for youth leaders. To sign up to receive Mobilize click here.

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