Word of the Boston bombings hit Twitter before they hit CNN or any other news network. And as the video clips of the bombings began to emerge, my heart responded in shock and horror. Our hearts are wired to respond to atrocities like this, whether we’re near or far from the scene. Humans are complex creatures with a remarkable range of emotions, even at the same time. The Bible helps us understand the right way to react, and in the midst of tragedy, I want to respond appropriately. But I also know a simple response will not do.
Here’s something of a play-by-play of my own heart-response from yesterday afternoon and evening and today, and I’ll post my thoughts not as a model to be followed but maybe to help you identify the complex experiences you’re feeling today.
Shock — My first response is to acknowledge this is not the way it’s supposed to be. I feel shock mingle with anger. Adults should not have their legs blown off. And small children should not be killed on sidewalks, or anywhere (Isaiah 11:8–9). Something terribly wrong has occurred in Boston.
Vengeance — I soon find myself here. I know God will not let this bloodshed go unpunished (Romans 12:19). He is loving, and he is also just and will not let murder, or any other sin, off the hook (Numbers 14:18). He has raised up civil authorities to put down such egregious wrongdoing. It is out of my hands, but I pray the perpetrator(s) is/are captured quickly and brought to justice (Romans 13:3–4).
Prayer for the victims and the families — Images from the crime scene break me and lead me to pray for the injured. And I pray for the families of the dead.
Gratitude — I look at all the military and police and ambulances and thank God for the common grace of self-sacrifice at work in the first responders on the scene.
Humility — I am reminded these malicious bombs and flowing bloodshed are public punctuations of the evil in the world because of human sin and rebellion against God — evil that is in me in my sin. This swiftness to shed blood is an atrocity with its roots stretching down into each of our hearts (Romans 3:9–15).
Awe — And yet in the tragedy of swiftness to bloodshed, I am reminded this cowardly violence is behind the Savior’s death on the cross, where his healing and cleansing blood flowed to guarantee my eternal hope (Acts 2:22–23).
Comfort — The same God who governs over all the details of a fallen universe, who even governed the murder of his Son for our good and for our joy, is the same God who sovereignly governs over every human tragedy, and will direct truly evil events to bring about the greater blessing and good of his children (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20).
Prayer for the victims and families — My heart returns to prayer again for the families directly affected, that in the events the Savior would draw near and become a source of eternal joy for everyone affected.
Prayer for the churches — I turn to pray for boldness for the gospel-faithful men in New England and elsewhere who will be preaching this Sunday. God governs and he comforts. And I pray God will give them words to comfort God’s children and to address hard hearts now faced with the nearness of mortality, that they turn and repent and believe in the Author of Life (Acts 3:15).
Prayer for the perpetrator(s) — Admittedly, it takes a long while for my heart to get here, and 24 hours after the Boston bombing I’m not here yet. But I know if there was grace for the “chief of sinners,” a man so hardened he stood in approval over the bloody body of a slaughtered Christian on a street in Jerusalem, there’s also grace for whoever was quick to shed blood on the streets of Boston (Acts 7:59–8:1). And so I pray the perpetrator(s) would awaken today to the abyss of sin in their own hearts, and realize their need for the Christ who bore unimaginable wrath in the place of sinful murderers.
I don’t know if your experience is like mine, but this is the sort of spiritual whiplash I experience in the hours after I’m exposed to such tragedy. Regardless of what we feel, may we cling to the God of hope, find comfort in his sovereign power, trust his Son, and abide in his word.
Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) is a content strategist at Desiring God, blogger, and the author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Karalee, and their three children.