God Amid Tragedy
After the massacre that took place at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, many often tend to ask themselves, “Where is God in all of this? Why would God let this happen? Pastors and leaders who serve within the hallowed halls of the church may ask, “How should the collective church around the world, respond when faced with tragedy?
I spoke to Pastor Wendell Gibbs. He is the Pastor of First Baptist Church Toronto. With over 30 years of Ministry experience, he also serves as a Volunteer Chaplain for Toronto Police Service.
We spoke about trying to understand the heart of God in the midst of tragedy, and how the church should respond. Here is that interview.
Sheldon Neil: How should the church respond when reoccurring tragedies and stories of gun-violence occur?
Pastor Wendell Gibbs: Along with our empathy, first we should resolve to reassure courage, against the fear and anxieties; and secondly, deter the reaction to our human judgements and disunity, caused by a few radicals. In the midst of our anger and anguish, we implore to not let fear deter our FAITH, nor hate our LOVE, or despair our HOPE. 2 Timothy 1:7 declares that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of Love, Power and a sound Mind.” However, our Church leaders (or Leader), need to regain our public voice of spiritual disciplines and reasoning, against the demoralizing of our family and societal values. Our postmodern culture, with the dictates of our politics, are/have dangerously ignored the tenants of our Godly morals, that provides guidance and boundaries to our ‘freedoms of expression’. The consequence is an immoral society of corruption and crime, so warned by Jesus and the gospels that “in the lasts days, perilous times will come” (cf: 2 Timothy 3:1-5). The Church’s members and leaders are to challenge the status quo, and model our gospel optimism in the worlds we live (salt and light).
(Noted: The 1st Century believers/apostles also believed they were in the last days. We are now over 2000 years later and we’re that much closer)
Sheldon Neil: Give us a deeper sense of the weight of this moment, when tragedy strikes in the confines of sacred space, like the church?
Pastor Wendell Gibbs: It is heart-wrenching and frightful, leaving us powerless with thoughts for enhanced security and safety. Many from our Faith community, members and leaders alike, share the same agony and concern. However, we agree we must continue to be a voice of hope and a presence of care. And in the midst of senseless and painful losses, we offer both spiritual and physical comfort and encouragement to survivors, family and friends. That tragedy and violence can strike the confines of our sacred space, speaks to our culture as outlined above. Reverence and respect are compromised for individual rights and freedoms. Yet, the collective Church body will not relent in despair, for though we seem to live in ‘perilous’ times, there is a far greater reward awaiting. Meanwhile, we weep, we moan, and we unify for the good of humanity and for the glory of our Creator.
Sheldon Neil: After the tragedy that took place at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, is prayer enough to keep families safe?
Pastor Wendell Gibbs: We are called First Baptist Church Toronto, so it’s ever dear to our hearts. The evidence will signal that ‘Prayer’ is not enough, though primary. As implied above, we need our political leaders, along with our justice and security systems to work more diligently to protect our vulnerabilities. This also means proactive measures to our boundaries and censorship on weapons, crimes and lawlessness. This is why I believe we are admonished to pray for our governing authorities, because they are “established by God” (Romans 13:1). 1 Timothy 2:1 puts it this way “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
“As society and individuals are governed less and less by their moral consciences, they thus invite more and more laws to govern their lawlessness.” Rev. Wendell Gibbs, M.Div.
Sheldon Neil: Hurricanes, Las Vegas shooting and now Sutherland Springs, Texas – tragedy and loss have been a reoccurring storyline in the news cycle. What do you say to people who make ask, where is God?
Pastor Wendell Gibbs: Interestingly, I too ask the same question, and can only offer my humble biblical approach for consideration. As creatures, we confine ourselves to an evil world by free choice; against a Creator who offers otherwise. Based on belief in the creation story, humankind rejected a world of perfection and peace. Sure, the ‘garden sin’ may not be our fault, as some may say, but no one asking the question will deny that every human has, and are making the same sinful choices everyday (through our greed, lusts, pride, hate, judgements, etc…), thus separating ourselves from a Holy God. But most important, humankind have left God out of their lives and the equation, yet we want Him at our own conveniences and need. However, God remains in control of HIS creation, and this season of our temporal challenging life will soon pass to restoration of the eternal perfection once again, through HIS Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:18 outlines that not only God’s creatures, but even the earth is groaning from the evil and suffering under the bondage of decay.