We ended the day on Sunday, April 19th, knowing about a huge tragedy that has taken place in our province. As I (Mitchell) am writing this the number of deceased persons is at 22, not counting the shooter. This small community of Portapique is like many other small communities in our province, including our own.
We are not used to this type of violence in our province. Some will blame the gun manufacturers. Some will blame the shooter. Some will blame the lack of mental health supports. Some will take to social media and share things in ignorance.
We must remember that our words matter at a time like this. What we say has implications on our Christian witness. We want our words to lead people closer to God and understand who he is and how he works.
Remember that God is always present among those who are confused and hurting. God will never abandon the world he made and the human beings he love. No evil is ever powerful enough to drive God away or to take him off his throne.
C.S. Lewis once wrote: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” No person, even one who does evil, can stop God’s will or hinder his work. This is why we can trust God.
The challenges and dangers we face are not proof of God’s absence, but a reminder that our world is fallen. This is why we ask the question, “Why would God let this happen?” Much ink has been used through the centuries to wrestle with the problem of human suffering. Many of these works are helpful but sometimes all we can do is keep our eyes on the cross.
The life and death of Jesus tells us that God is always on the side of the sufferer. Jesus, who is very God, took on suffering to defeat it. For Jesus to win the war against sickness, suffering, and grief, he had to experience those things himself. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).
God hates and despises suffering because it hurts us. Suffering hurts those who were made in the image of God and meant to find their purpose in him. One day suffering will end, but until then we know that God has not abandoned us.
How do we pray in the meantime. It is easy to say that our thoughts and prayers are with those who are grieving, but what does that really mean? We don’t want it to just be something we say when we feel powerless and don’t know what else to say? How should we be praying at a time like this?
We should pray for the physical wounds that have happened. There may be survivors who will face years of recovery. We pray that they would find the help they need to deal with physical pain and persevere through the treatments.
We should pray for their invisible wounds. People have seen or heard of loved ones and neighbours who have been wounded or killed. These images will never leave their minds. Many survivors will deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Pray for the emotional trauma they are facing. Pray that they will have access to counselling and mental health supports. Pray against nightmares and for the ability to sleep and rest. Pray for those who will have to tell their stories to the investigators and live through it again.
Pray for shielding from photos and information of the shooter. As videos and photos appear in the news and on social media, pray that the survivors are shielded from hearing about the shooter and reliving the trauma all over again.
Pray for a strong support system for the long haul. We pray that communities will come together and support each other through the difficult times ahead. We pray for the Christians who are in these communities and feel the loss and pain.
Specifically, we pray the families of all the shooting victims. We pray for the husband and children of RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson. We pray for RCMP and First Responders. We pray for the local government councillors, MLA’s, and Premier McNeil.
Did you know that research has shown that after a mass shooting people who felt supported by their faith community ultimately experienced fewer symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than those who had no faith community?
Did you know that attitudes toward God after a shooting impacts people’s ability to cope and recover? Those who conclude that God is punishing, absent, or untrustworthy often experience greater depression and other mental health issues.
In contrast, looking to God for strength, guidance, and support and experiencing him as an “ever-present help in trouble (Ps 46:1) is associated with less anxiety and depression as well as greater meaning and psychological stability.
We pray that God’s people will avoid cliche responses but instead take the time to listen to the pain and simply be present as God is present. Therefore, we pray that people will find who they need most at a time like this – a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
I lift my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.