A pastoral response to a tragedy

by Kevin Carson

Editor’s note: In February, the city of Springfield was shocked by the news of an abduction and then the murder of ten-year-old Hailey Owens. The community, far from paralyzed, however, moved quickly to express both their outrage at evil and their love for neighbor. Among those community leaders who helped shape thought and action was Kevin Carson, pastor of Sonrise Baptist in Ozark, MO, and Department Chair of Biblical Counseling at Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Springfield. This is a portion of his blog response (pastorkevinsblog.wordpress.com). 

There are some days like last night, February 18, and this morning, when I am reminded of what I hate most and love most. 

What we hate …

We hate that one would even consider, much less perpetrate, this kind of crime. We hate that our world is so broken. We hate that our children do not have the privilege of living in the relative safety of generations past. We hate that when our children ask to go outside we are not sure what answer to give. We hate feeling the victims of those in our communities who would do us injury. We hate sin.

What we love …

Community. Last night when I called the Springfield Police Department (SPD) to offer any help they could use overnight, the 911 operator graciously said she would add my name to a fast-growing list of those in our community who were asking how to help. The SPD had no shortage of people who were immediately making themselves available to leave the comfort of their own homes to do whatever was necessary overnight to serve them and serve this dear family. We love our community.

Compassion. Social media tells the story of this community’s care and concern for others. From television anchors to politicians to pastors to school employees to dads and moms all over the Ozarks, this community hurts. There is heartbreak. We hurt with this family. You can see the sadness. When you harm one of us, you harm us all. We love our compassion.

Anger. Again, social media tells the story of the anger in the hearts of this community. We certainly do not love all that is said in anger; however, anger toward sin against others is right. We love our anger.

Concern. When the AMBER alert text spread across the cell phones of this community, people began to pray. People from all over the world have joined in with the Ozarks through social media in prayer for us. The seriousness of this crime reveals the concern that we have in this community for each other. We love our concern.

So, how do we respond as individuals and as a community?

We remember. Remember that life is short (James 4:14). Many days will not turn out the way we hoped. Often we are confronted with a world that is broken, filled with evil, disappointments, and enigmas. However, it is in this context that we must remember. Remember that God loves us (Ephesians 3:14-19), that God gives us grace to handle the pressures (1 Corinthians 10:13), that God understands the murder of the innocent (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus, God’s son, suffered a cruel death as the perfect, sinless Son of God. So, we remember.

We recommit. We recommit to live like today matters. It is so easy to miss today in anticipation of what comes tomorrow or in contemplation of the past. Today, though, has been granted to us by God (Psalm 118:24) and we are responsible to take full advantage of today’s opportunities, to recommit to living every day for God’s honor (2 Corinthians 5:9). One of the key areas we live in light of God’s honor is in sharing the hope that we have through Christ. We recognize the fact that Jesus powerfully works in people and that no one is beyond the hope of life change in Christ. So, we recommit.

We resolve. We resolve to love our neighbors. Loving your neighbor is the most important thing outside of loving God (Matthew 22:37-40). We praise those who went out of their way to try to protect Hailey. We recognize that many of us should be more aware daily of the difficulties of those in our paths and in our neighborhoods. Part of being a loving neighbor is simply being a good citizen and watching after our fellows. So, we resolve.

We request. We request that God would grant comfort and mercy for Hailey’s family. We take God at His Word when He says He will provide grace when we ask for it (Hebrews 4:16). We request comfort and mercy for us. Those of us who are fearful, those of us who are struggling, those of us who are trying to piece all of this together in a way that makes sense to us, pray to God for comfort and wisdom. So, we request.

We rest. As we try to consider all that’s taking place in this community and consider the horrible evil that has happened, we rest in God’s love and control. We confess that we do not know why God allows for evil in His plan and how this ultimately fits His purposes, yet we choose today to trust God. So, we rest.

Finally, we respond to this day not in hopelessness because we hope in God. We respond to this day not in paralyzing fear because we realize there’s more we can do. We respond to this day not in despair of mankind but in the hope of change because of Jesus Christ.