SPU PrayingI write just several days after inexplicable, unexpected violence struck at the heart of my beloved Seattle Pacific University. This is a community I love, full of people I love, full of students who still feel like “my” students. I felt such protectiveness for these precious young lives. I fully understand there is no nightmare worse for a college president than one like this. As the whole thing broke, I rushed to get to the scene to offer my support to President Dan Martin, to his team, to the faculty and staff, to the students. What unfolded over the hours and days ahead told me this is a remarkable community. I am so proud of SPU.

Much to the shock and horror of the good people of SPU, a troubled gunman stepped onto campus, on a beautiful afternoon in June, and opened fire, hoping to kill as many as possible before killing himself. In the wake there was blood and carnage, one young life left dead on a familiar sidewalk, others gravely wounded, fear and uncertainty rampant across the campus. The good people of SPU were reeling and wounded.

And then remarkable things began to happen. As I walked the campus that afternoon, watched the news coverage, attended the prayer services, the scenes of that sacred space of grass and trees and flowers became the scene not only of blood but of healing, not only carnage but prayer, not only rage but the tentative steps toward new beginnings. Stunning, horrifying, yes, but remarkable, beyond words—a peace beyond understanding began to settle down across this sacred ground.

When senseless violence strikes we are horrified. Being horrified is precisely the first and right response of being human. Leon Kass, speaking after the Boston Marathon bombings, says “you cannot give proper verbal account of the horror of evil, yet a culture that couldn’t be absolutely horrified by such things is dead.” Yes, horror is the appropriate first response. When these things happen we need our rage, anger, utter consternation. This is where we begin. Christians too began at this place of horror.

Then we want to know what happened. We want all the details we can find. But then we need more than information. We need to understand. We need to understand the humanity that could be so broken. We need to understand the prevalence of violence on our campuses and on our streets. We begin these questions in a quest to understand. This is the next step.

But then Christians begin to gather in a different way. The scenes of students praying—as their immediate response to the horror they faced—all across the lawns of our beautiful campus—yes, I said, this is what Christians finally do. These students prayed for comfort, prayed for the shooter and his troubled soul, prayed for healing for their friends and for the families of the lost one, prayed for the SPU community, prayed for their leaders. They gathered together in groups to pray. I have never felt the spirit of prayer more real. It was palpable.

The question on everyone’s mind: Why can there be such evil in a world created by a loving God? In The Problem Of Pain, C. S. Lewis says, “pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.” Yes, this is what the SPU faculty and staff and leaders have taught and modeled day-in-and-day-out. Ultimate reality is not only physical matter. Ultimate reality is not nothing, as Nietzsche would have it, nor is it evil. Ultimate reality is shaped by a God of goodness, a God who is “righteous and loving.”

Listen, Christians do not live in a bubble of protection from pain or denial of suffering. At the very heart of the gospel, on the cross of Jesus, hangs the one who absorbed all the suffering of the world. Suffering is real, but here is the deal: Suffering for Christians is not the final word. Beyond the cross there is resurrection. In these awful moments, we lean toward the promise that God will make all things right in the end. This is goodness. Ultimately, that’s what shapes our response to horror in our midst.

These are not abstractions for Christians. I know they are not clichés because I saw our people—traumatized, wounded, confused, hurting—begin to gather in prayer for the wounded and for each other. I saw them gather in prayer for a broken world. I saw love and righteousness in action—precisely because our people know—beyond understanding—that pain gives way to life.

In the sixth century B C, Jeremiah, the great poet of biblical exile, said so eloquently: “They shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.” These words were said at one of the darkest moments in the history of God’s people, a time full of loss and pain and mourning. I think this is the right way to think about the hard world in which we live. In this horrifying moment at SPU, what we saw was a radiant people. This is not a cheap escape. No, what we saw  on the SPU campus was a people who know—with courage, against the grain of our culture—that the goodness of the Lord will be the last word.

There will be much hard work of healing yet to be done, to be sure. But living within a deeper reality, knowing, finally, that God’s world is created in righteousness and love and goodness, that makes the difference. That can make us radiant even when darkness rears its ugly head. That’s what happened at SPU over these days.

Here are some pictures put together by my dear friend, Professor Kathleen Braden. [button color=”#COLOR_CODE” background=”#COLOR_CODE” size=”medium” src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs9V5xilSs4&feature=youtu.be”]See SPU Pictures[/button]