Thoughts on a Tragedy
Over at literatecomments.com Erik Charter offered these comments yesterday in view of the tragic shootings at a Connecticut school:
“The horrible shootings in Connecticut today are a painful reminder of the primary purpose of the Christian faith — to prepare us to die. Everything else is a distant second.
“Here’s a great new greeting for every health & wealth gospel church, every Neocalvinist church, every Theonomist church, every church that acts like a country club, every church that attempts to be hip & happening, every church that is obnoxiously postmillennial, every church that is all about being culture warriors, every social-gospel church, every church that is all about affirming alternative lifestyles, every church that tells you to work your way to heaven, every church that is off-on-a-tangent, period — “Welcome to Sunday worship. Our goal today is to prepare you to die”. Tell people that and then preach the righteousness of Christ and how that must be imputed to us by faith in order to be acceptable to the Father. See if people keep coming back.”
Not everyone within the Reformed fold will appreciate the examples that Mr. Charter uses to drive home his point that the church’s primary goal in its ministry to people is to help them prepare for eternity (for example, neocalvinism, theonomy and postmillenialism are all schools of thought within the Reformed fold that many would regard as compatible with Reformed confessional orthodoxy). But in view of this horrific and tragic instance of human wickedness and depravity on display in the brutal slaying of victims which included young and helpless children, the main thrust of his post is spot on. While there is an important secondary place among God’s people for concerns about the things of this world (working for justice in society, resisting the coarsening of our culture, fighting societal ills, etc.), the church’s main task as a church (besides the all-important task of glorifying God in all that it is called to do) is to prepare its members for eternity.
Tragic events like the one yesterday remind us how very very fragile, brief and uncertain is this present life. None of us can know with absolute certainty when we get up in the morning whether we will see another day, or whether we will end up as victims of an evil thug’s malice, like the children in yesterday’s shooting did. Tragic events like this also remind us that after this life there is a judgment day coming, and that heaven and hell are a reality. While the families of the victims of this horrible shooting might find it to be small comfort at this time, God’s Word assures them (as it assures us all) that in the end God will right all wrongs. The evil young man who snuffed out so many lives yesterday is very likely even now experiencing God’s just, fierce, relentless, holy wrath in hell (unless God chose to grant him repentance in his dying moments), and will suffer in agonizing, endless eternal torment in the Lake of Fire forever for his sin; as he so richly deserves. Knowing that the incomprehensible pain which this vile and cowardly man heaped upon the parents and families of his victims will be returned sevenfold upon his head in hell by God’s just and holy retribution can actually serve as a source of comfort to those who mourn over this senseless tragedy; for they can be assured that someday God will right even this wrong and vindicate the lives of their fallen loved ones. In this life evil and injustice abound (the tragedy yesterday being but one of many instances of this); but justice — ultimate justice — is coming.
Let us be in earnest prayer for the families of the victims, especially that they would know the comfort of the gospel and the hope of the resurrection. And let us as a church remember that our main task is to prepare sinners to stand justified before their Maker by declaring the gospel in Word and Sacrament. Let us not get sidetracked by worldly agendas or even by otherwise worthy yet temporal concerns. As we are told in Holy Scripture: “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27, ESV); “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10, ESV) Only as we are found in Christ, washed from our sins by His blood and clothed in the robe of His everlasting righteousness, can we face that great day of judgment with confidence and assured hope. And only as we in the church proclaim the gospel of Christ’s imputed righteousness will we be found faithful to the task of preparing sinners for eternity, as we have been called to do.