The senseless violence that unfolded in Sandy Hook Elementary School sent shock waves across the nation. But for the students, faculty and staff, for their families, and most especially for the families of the shooter’s victims, the confusion and grief are unimaginable. There is no use sugarcoating it. Unimagined violence brings unparalleled pain.
As a chaplain at the Pentagon in the days, weeks and months following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, it was my job to help people navigate through that pain. Even now, I can recall my feeling of inadequacy. How do you help people to make sense of the senseless? I quickly learned that you don’t.
The profound questions and stirrings of anger must come. Answers must be sought for those young and old. Ripples of those on the ground keep enlarging, all seeking to make sense of this most grievous and tragic act.
Healing in a wake of violence begins to happen only by sharing the pain with one greater than oneself. Families can help to shoulder the pain simply by being present. Communities can provide encouragement and help through the gift of a meal, a hug or an hour of free babysitting. While we feel helpless, we can all do our part to support those who grieve.
But, as with me at a post-9/11 Pentagon, we will be inadequate. So what do we do? Where can those who grieve turn?
Through my 30 years as a chaplain, and particularly in the wake of the attacks, I saw firsthand the miraculous healing that often comes through the pages of God’s Word. In times of tragedy, the Bible offers us access to a God who understands our pain and extends us His strength in bearing up under it. Psalm 22:24 tells us that God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” When we get to the end of our own resources, we discover a God of limitless resource.
In the days and weeks ahead, let us all continue to pray for the comfort of those who grieve. Let us provide whatever practical help we are able to give. And let us point those who suffer to a God who understands and offers comfort and peace in the midst of tragedy.
Col. Arthur Pace is the American Bible Society’s director of the Armed Service Ministry after serving more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. After taking a position at the Pentagon, Pace’s work included ministry to Sept. 11, 2001 survivors.
Related content from On Faith:
* Graham: Why the shock and awe?
* Stanley: In tragedy we grieve; in God, we hope