On Sunday morning, November 5, as I sat worshiping with my family in church, a gunman entered the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, only 37 miles away, and violently murdered half of their congregation. As the news began to break that afternoon, it sounded unbelievable. As more news filtered out, it only got worse. I find it difficult to pull my attention away from each new detail as the story of what happened continues to unfold…
So began the post I wrote for enCourage a year ago this week. Today is the anniversary of the shooting that changed our neighboring community of Sutherland Springs. In the months that have passed since that dreadful day, the congregation of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs have wept together as they buried their lost loved ones, celebrated together as they welcomed their injured home from hospitals, limped alongside one another through long and slow recoveries, and have walked together a path of sorrow that none of them anticipated.
The national media carried the story for a week or so before moving on to other breaking stories. Our own local media, with more compassion, kept us informed of each milestone, as the injured returned home and progress on the construction of a new church building began. This past week there have been stories in the newspaper leading up to the anniversary, with testimonies of God’s faithfulness amid lingering painful recoveries. One of the survivors came to speak to our church this summer, and his story is harrowing, but was undergirded by a strong hope in God. Even still, I cannot begin to imagine the pain of what he experienced.
Rather than setting my imagination to this task, I would rather turn to Scripture, and seek real and true encouragement from the prayer-book of the Old Testament. Psalm 42 records the prayerful meditations of one who was panting for God during a time of crushing sorrow, writing that—
“My tears have been my food day and night,”. . . “My soul is cast down within me,”. . . “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers have washed over me.”
He is feeling as if he is drowning in sorrow, and if that isn’t enough, he is taunted by others who—
“say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?'”
And he questions why he must—
“go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
Surely this must sound familiar to our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs. Waves of grief, punctuated by nagging fears and doubts must be calling them to question their faith. I know that trials of far less severity have given occasion for the voices of fear and doubt to whisper in my own ear.
Our Psalmist does not leave us (or his downcast soul) hanging, but woven between his doubts and fears repeats the refrain with which he calls his heart to remember where his hope is anchored—
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.“
When troubles crash upon us like the heavy waves of the sea, and our doubts and fears chew at the corners of our hearts, we need to return to simple faith. Until our souls have stopped reeling we need to simply hope in God, who alone is our salvation. Perhaps that sounds too simple. But I believe the Bible is true, and that God is faithful to keep his promises. He didn’t promise me a pain-free life, but he did promise me eternal life in Christ, where there will be no more sorrow and no more pain (Rev. 21:4). Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.
This is my prayer for our hurting brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs. That as they look back on what happened a year ago, as they mark this terrible anniversary, they would seek healing at the cross. May they find their hope and their peace in the only source for true healing: in our Savior, Jesus Christ.