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Summary: A Pastoral Response to the Virginia Tech Events of April 16, 2007

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INTRODUCTION: Common Questions about tragic events--

• Why is there so much evil in the world?

• Why do innocent people suffer?

• Where was God when this happened?

A--TRUE STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCED TRAGIC EVENTS IN THEIR LIVES AND THEIR ULTIMATE RESPONSE TO THE TRAGEDIES THEY FACED.

1. Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and author: "Life works us all over before it’s done." Conclusions based on the experience of his father’s suicide, his own depression and his faith experience:

• In the Scripture, even the greatest heroes were depicted with not only all of their strengths but also their flaws.

• The motif of Scripture is that with God, the seemingly worse things were never the last things.

• God is like an ingenious alchemist who can take lead and somehow transmute it into gold. God always has something else that God is able to do.

2. John Claypool, Episcopalian priest and theologian: Interview about the death of his 10-year-old Daughter:

“My anger? Well I understood my anger as just the frustration that is natural when the way it is so much less than the way it was. I think anger is utterly appropriate. It is frustration. It’s wanting things to be one way when they are another. But what I did was to openly acknowledge my frustration. I always reminded myself that the depth of my grief corresponded to the depth of my love. If I had not had deep affection for Laura Lou then I wouldn’t have been all that upset about her death. The more profoundly we love, the more profoundly we go into grief when something is taken away that we love… But what helped me more than anything was realizing that she was a gift and not a possession. There is a mystery about her death that I still don’t understand but there’s a deeper mystery about her birth: that I ever got to be with that little girl for a single day. And that can never be taken away. And that’s incredible good fortune. Something I did not deserve, something that was not in any way an entitlement. It was a sheer and total gift…The night I realized that Laura Lou was a gift and not a possession, that she had belonged to Another before she had ever come into my life, it didn’t lessen the sadness one iota and I wish to God that she was still living, but what it did do was save me from a lifetime of bitterness and resentment that frankly wouldn’t change anything. Resentment is acid in our souls. It wouldn’t have brought her back; it wouldn’t have made me any better. Thinking of her as a gift and not a possession freed me from spending the rest of my life with my fist in the face of God and led me to open my hands in astonished gratitude that I had ever gotten to know her at all.”

Winston Churchill—“Never, never give up!”

B—A HELPFUL METAPHOR: GOD AS AN ALCHEMIST (Buechner)

As I try to make sense out of the terrible events of this past Monday in Blacksburg, VA that has touched all of us to one extent or another, I do indeed find these insights from Buechner to be particularly helpful:

• In the Scripture, even the greatest heroes were depicted with not only all of their strengths but also their flaws.


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