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That’s the phrase that keeps going through my mind. It happened to a church family in a small town in Texas.

A pastor’s teenage daughter was killed, along with twenty-five other people, plus the shooter at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Eight members of ONE family died. For the small community of Sutherland Springs, 4% of their population died Sunday at the hands of a mentally deranged gunman.

I’ll leave the news-oriented details to the news networks. You can read about the town itself in this New York Times piece, or how some of the brave local residents risked their own lives to act in this piece appearing on Mirror.

What concerns me, personally, is how the church at large should feel today about it all.

I’m a pastor. I’ve served small, rural churches in small, rural towns. I have a teenage daughter. I can’t possibly understand what this town and these families are enduring today. But in this moment of chaos, I want so badly to identify with their pain somehow and to lift them before the Father in prayer.

When it comes to tragedy and suffering, it’s impossible for us to answer all of the questions of why things happen. Sin. Hatred. Darkness. Satan. Evil.

But there are two significant scriptures that keep coming to my mind this morning.

We Identify with Jesus When We Suffer

Paul wrote a letter about joy, from prison, to the church in Philippi. In the middle of that letter, Paul recounted some of his earlier professional and religious accomplishments only to discount their value entirely in light of the privilege of knowing Jesus.

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

~ Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

My mind cannot fully enter into Paul’s way of thinking here. He was in prison while writing and would someday die a martyr’s death at the hands of the deranged Emperor Nero. And with some measure of mystery and moral authority he wrote that he wanted to suffer with Jesus.

Our normal questions about suffering include why did it happen? and how will God stop it? and who will be held accountable? But Paul’s question seemed to be something entirely different.

How can I, in this moment of suffering, find a way to identify more closely with the One who suffered so much for me?

Knowing Jesus, who went through such trial and suffering, more deeply requires that we endure suffering patiently while seeking to know him more deeply through it.

It isn’t the people with easy lives who can speak out of the depth of experience and knowledge. It is those who have suffered who can most closely identify with Jesus’ suffering on the cross.

Our God is the God of All Comfort

The second passage that continues to flow through my mind is this…

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV

ALL true comfort is a gift from our Creator whether we realize it or not. Without him, nothing makes sense beyond the moment.

And while we’d often still love to know more about why things happen, the Bible gives us at least this insight… when we’ve experienced comfort ourselves, we are more capable of comforting others.

Paul again mentions that in our suffering, we “share abundantly” in the sufferings of Christ. It isn’t that we contribute anything to the purpose for which Christ died. It’s simply that we can identify a little more with the feelings he experienced leading up to his death when we suffer.

Something that the national media may never be able to comprehend or capture in a story for the world is what Christians know about First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas… We know that this is a church family.

That’s a phrase Christians use a lot to describe the familial nature and friendship found in a local congregation. These people have done life together. They’ve gone deep together. They’ve shared in each other’s sufferings before, though never to this degree. This happened to families. And it happened to a church family.

In light of this tragedy and the suffering now being endured by those who survived, along with all of their friends and their family, let the church at large approach the throne on their behalf, praying for the God of all comfort to perform the ministry of consolation that only he can.

Let the church, as Christ’s body, be here for those who suffer. And let us point the world to the God of all comfort and to Jesus, who understands because of his own suffering at the hands of evil men.

We don’t have all the answers. But we do have THE Answer.

Brandon Cox is lead pastor of Grace Hills Church, a new church plant in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as Editor and Community Facilitator for and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox and was formerly a pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. In his spare time, he offers consultation to church leaders about communication, branding and social media. He and his wife Angie live with their two awesome kids in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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