Why do we respond this way every time? Our initial response to tragedies such as we have just witnessed in Orlando, Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge, and Manhattan is always the same…shock. How could this happen? Who would do such a thing? Why did this happen? What was the motive? What was the offender’s home life like? His family? His childhood? His work?
“Shocked! I’m just shocked!”
That seems to be the response for days. While this feeling is accompanied by anger, disgust, outrage and sorrow, shock drives the psyche of many in our country. But why? It seems that with every major tragedy that occurs, we find ourselves wondering why these atrocities keep happening. Protest after protest. Demonstration after demonstration. Shock leads so many to the point of reacting in ways they might not otherwise react. It may very well be our fear that causes the shock to have such a negative effect. We turn on the television and see the conclusion of a report involving breaking news, then quickly turn to a major twenty-four-hour news station to pick up the story. For the next several days, a few key people pontificate and speculate what the next steps will be for our country. We watch as many of our fellow countrymen protest the need for due process. Our shock seems to cultivate a desire to abandon the rights of all Americans that, ironically, so many claim are being overlooked. The belief that these rights have been overlooked is what leads most to participate in the demonstrations in the first place. So why does this keep happening?
We are in such a difficult spot in our country. The challenges moving forward are no doubt causing many to feel a sense of hopelessness. Accompanying our shock is the reality that with each passing day comes the possibility that we will face, yet again, the agony and sorrow of another attack. Is it possible that our experiences of such circumstances, coupled with the constant barrage of information and seeming determination to move forward, past the terror, brings to bear this response of shock? On the edge of our seats, we watch with anxiety the coverage as the questions raised are given an ample amount of answers. Every media outlet searches diligently for the expert that will put forth the theory that will drive these stories farther down the proverbial road. Once these stories begin to wane, we return to our regularly scheduled programming. The feelings begin to diminish (I am not suggesting these feelings go away completely) until they no longer dictate our every thought. Unfortunately, it seems that when these feelings fade, and our lives return to some kind of normalcy, another violent incident occurs, leaving us responding yet again in shock.
I wonder if somehow, someway, we have lost the sense of understanding regarding the world and the underlying struggle that exists. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. Our struggle is against the powers of darkness, against the forces of evil in the heavenly realm. Have we lost sight of this? Understandably, we are witnesses to tragic events that are filled with the shedding of blood. So it stands to reason that our perception would be that this is a war against those that would harm the body. Yes. It is a physical war against those that would harm the body. However, there is a deeper spiritual battle raging, the battle between Christ and Satan. Honestly, if you were to ask most Christians today, they would say unreservedly that the deeper spiritual battle is between Christ and Satan, between good and evil. And they would be right. But the truth is many forget this reality with every catastrophic event. Shock reigns supreme. At least for a little while.
When these tragedies occur, and the shock rings out in the speech and discussion of Americans, I find myself wondering if people are experiencing this feeling because they truly can’t believe this latest horror has happened, or because they really weren’t expecting it. To be shocked is literally to be surprised or upset by some event or occurrence. Some would suggest that the expression of shock is based out of a sense of awe or disbelief. Picture the countless video images of people on the streets of Manhattan on that September day. With the beautiful blue sky setting the backdrop, they watched in awe and disbelief at the sight of that black smoke rising up in the air. Shocked. Obviously, that feeling of surprise or awe or disbelief can overwhelm us when something of that magnitude occurs. But we cannot allow our shock to dictate our steps moving forward.
From a position of shock, our reactions will vary. Often, we lash out. When we are surprised or startled by something we tend to physically jerk…sometimes violently…often involuntarily. Emotional shock carries with it the same response. We lash out verbally, saying things we might not normally say. We point blame and pass judgement. Sadly, our shock, and subsequent response, often results in an increase of pain and suffering. This is largely due to our inability to think and react in an appropriate manner. Shock lends itself to further destruction.
So why do we respond this way every time? Why is our initial response to tragedies such as we have just witnessed in Orlando, Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge, and Manhattan always the same…shock? Maybe a better question would be what can we do to make sure our response brings glory to God?
1. Pray first.
For whatever reason, our first action in times of crisis is to look for solutions on our own. We troll through our minds searching for remnants that remain of our memories of past experiences. We long to piece together kernels of advice and wisdom we have gleaned over the years so as to respond swiftly and surely. But we often find our own wisdom left wanting. Prayer must be our first step in any circumstance. Prayer says something about us. Prayer says something about God. Prayer says something to God. It says that we are not in control, acknowledges that God is God and we are not, and our prayer says to God that we stand in need of his provision. If our response is going to bring glory to God, prayer must be our first action.
2. Remember there is a deeper spiritual battle raging.
While it seems that with ever increasing intensity our nation, our world, is becoming unsettled in the throes of tragedy and terrorism, this is nothing new. Since the response of Cain to Abel’s more acceptable sacrifice, humanity has dealt with and battled selfish ambition and self-indulgence. But the underlying reality is that the spiritual forces of evil are raining down their onslaught of pain and suffering, irrespective of persons. This battle appears on the surface for us here. However, as the Revelation of John so wonderfully describes, the battle is much deeper than the surface of what we experience. There is a deeper spiritual battle raging, a battle between Christ and Satan, between good and evil. Ultimately, good triumphs over evil. Satan is defeated. God’s team wins. If our response is going to bring glory to God, we must remember there is a deeper spiritual battle raging.
3. Maintain a Christlike attitude
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The Bible has a lot to say about our attitude. In particular, the prideful spirit filled with selfishness and vain conceit is clearly condemned. Humility is the exhortation of scripture. As a matter of fact, Paul says we are to have the same attitude as Christ, “…Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). This attitude of Christ is one that humbly offers itself sacrificially in service to God and others. As we experience the difficulties of this life, we must remember that we all have fallen and come short of God’s glory. This reality ought to humble us. We must resist the desire to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We must think with sober judgement, realizing that we will all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. If our response is going to bring glory to God, we must maintain a Christlike attitude.
When tragedy strikes (and it will continue until Christ returns), our initial response will likely be shock. But it’s what we do with that shock, or how we move beyond shock, that says something about where we place our hope and trust. My prayer is that each of us will look past the surface to the deeper reality of deliverance in Christ. May we not get lost in, or carried away by, our shock, but allow the image of God to be evident in our response.