To describe the recent mass murder in Las Vegas as a profound tragedy which rips at the core of our human soul is almost an understatement. In its aftermath, you will read and hear all sorts of analysis — some good, some not too helpful — especially involving the question of “Why?” when the loss of innocents occurs.
What follows is an attempt to share some thoughts in a Christian context for those who are open to thinking about the problem of pain from a human perspective. Let me quickly add that these thoughts are not my own, but those of the author and converted Christian, C.S. Lewis, who wrote his book “The Problem of Pain” following his profound grief over the death of his beloved wife, whom he married late in life and lost too quickly to cancer.
At the heart of Lewis’ message is simply this: Asking “Why?” in these situations is the wrong thing to do because of our incapacity as humans to understand God’s ways or plans for his children. Such a seemingly callous answer bereft of emotion, however, doesn’t help those of us here on earth trying to cope with the pain of the senseless suffering and loss of life in Las Vegas. Given the basic Christian belief in the goodness of God, we nonetheless wouldn’t be human if we didn’t wonder why we all suffer pain from time to time. What then could possibly be the purpose of pain?
Of pain’s purpose, Lewis tells us we know that trial and tribulation are essential elements of the Christian experience. Therefore, God will never let it cease until He sees our world is either redeemed or no further redeemable. Human pain is one aspect of what mankind endures in this world.
Moreover, pain insists upon being attended to. What I remind myself in these moments is this gem he wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
He clarifies that suffering/pain is not good in itself. “What is good in any painful experience is for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God and for the spectators, the compassion aroused and acts of mercy to which it leads.” His point about spectators deserves special attention in light of the Las Vegas shooting.
These “acts of mercy” aroused by the compassion of those involved sparked the motivation for this letter and were exemplified and illustrated beautifully by the actions of many individuals after the shooting began. Some examples of such “spectators” gleaned from the written account of others:
• A young 30-year-old man who was shot in the neck (where the bullet is still lodged and could remain lodged for the rest of his life) while trying to run back and save people in the crowd, especially his young nieces, after the gunman opened fire on the crowd.
• The off-duty San Diego police offer who flagged down a pickup and loaded the 30-year-old and others in the back of the pickup so they could get to the hospital.
• The woman who held a dying stranger in her arms for hours and described how the young 23-year-old man wrapped his fingers on her hand, squeezed a little bit until his fingers just went loose.
• An eyewitness staying with a friend who had been shot three times as bullets continued to fly into the crowd. There was no way he was going to leave his buddy because “I knew he wouldn’t have left me.” That same eyewitness was curbside transferring another young man to an ambulance when “that young man passed away, somebody’s son passed away right there. He was not by himself. He was always with somebody.”
• The 42-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served as a sniper in Iraq and whose battlefield instincts kicked in quickly as bullets rained overhead and immediately began tending to the wounded.
• A man one survivor knows only as Zach who herded people to a safe place.
• A registered nurse from Tennessee who died shielding his wife.
C. S. Lewis acknowledges and understands our human desire for “settled happiness and security” in this life, but God withholds those things from us by the very nature of the world. He does “scatter broadcast” joy, pleasure and merriment. As such, we are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, some joy and on occasion even ecstasy.
Why is it so? Because if we’re to attain the security in this world that we crave — that would teach us to “rest our hearts in this world” and therefore pose an obstacle to our return to God. “Our Father refreshes us on our journey with some pleasant inns; a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match,” but He will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
Perhaps we all then can take some comfort and solace in these words: And the Lord shall deliver you from every evil and He will preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18)
Thomas M. Wasinger,