Waukesha in the Valley of Tears

The recent attack at the Waukesha Christmas parade is tragic and unsettling, raising all sorts of questions in our hearts about why these things happen, and also if something like this could have been prevented.  These are natural human reactions and questions that always emerge in the face of shock and sorrow.   What might be said about it all from a Christian perspective to help us mentally process the situation?

A Christian can and should feel a righteous sense of anger in the face of such blatant injustice.  The attack was a horrible thing and any sensible person feels this in one’s bones.  The natural reaction that wells up from deep within us of a cry to the heavens on behalf of the killed, wounded, and impacted is normal, moral, and Biblical.  The Psalms are full of similar language and sentiments in the face of what is broken about life.  

However, the reaction of anger has limits.  For the Christian, this sentiment of disgust has to give way to the need for forgiveness, and it also finds its outlet in acts of charity towards all who are suffering over the situation.  The Christian response to suffering has always been one of love and compassion. We even go so far as to say that part of why God permits suffering in the world of any sort, from the tiniest pain to the worst of tragedies, is so that it can unleash love in the hearts of the human family. It exists in order to deepen our thirst to reach out and give comfort.  Certainly the outpouring of prayers, donations, and solidarity surrounding the Waukesha attack makes clear what is best about our human nature, and is an example of free will that is used for the good rather than for bad.  It is a demonstration of the Christian understanding that God’s power and his grace alive in human hearts is stronger than evil.  We are all free to choose, and we can, and do, choose what is good.  

Our anger also tends to find its outlet or expression in the conviction that we must prevent things like this from happening again, and we tend to look for some person, agency, or entity to blame.  Here we must proceed with nuance and caution.  The age-old human drive and desire to eradicate whatever causes pain is sensible and it has its necessary place in the world. It is what leads us to maintain systems of law, a criminal justice code, and the dispensation of just punishments for responsible parties.  

No doubt appropriate blame and punishment will be laid at the feet of the man who did this, and justice demands that he face consequences that are appropriate and measured in a humane manner. All of this is classically Christian.  As is the drive and desire to create better systems, safer situations, and more protective means to safeguard innocent persons. This human drive to fix whatever causes pain due to some recognizable deficiency is why we have things like clean drinking water, medicines, and airbags to name only a few life-saving modern realities for which we give thanks. 

However, a Christian also always understands that the world is fallen and that we will never be able to eradicate pain, suffering, and death.  Our drive to fix it all and prevent pain has limits that an increasingly secular world has forgotten.  A Christian knows that ultimately there is only so much one can do without destroying the essential warp and weave of human choice and freedom.  Pain will always be with us, as will tragedy, which is why Christians have always referred to this beautiful life as a “valley of tears.”  This is not heaven and it will never be.  

Therefore, we approach tragedies of this sort with an important sense of perspective, which in turn leads us to rest on faith, hope, and charity originating in God as our ultimate means of salvation and security.  To put it another way, tragedies like this keep our very proud and self-assured society on our knees which is something that should not be taken lightly.  God weeps for the tragedy of Waukesha, and he also actively works to mend it in ways that are quite simply beyond all of our powers.  Therefore, in tragedy, we turn to him. 

It is also true that Christianity’s deepest answer to suffering and tragedy is the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Christ himself. Jesus Christ is fully God and also fully man meaning that God is not a mere bystander to human suffering. He enters into it completely, even undergoing death, so that the human family would not go through it alone. Suffering offers us a pathway of union with God because God himself suffers in His Son. In the face of tragedies like Waukesha there are essentially no real words to say. Instead there is only the grace of companionship in pain. From the Cross, the Lord offers voiceless companionship to all of us who are heart-broken over something so sad. From the Cross he offers his outstretched hands.  

Most importantly what one does in the face of things like Waukesha is pray.  We pray for those impacted, for eachother, and for our world.  We do so knowing that all of those prayers are impactful, necessary, and are heard by our loving Father.   May God bring comfort, peace, justice, and salvation to us all.  

About Father Nathan Reesman

On Twitter: @FatherReesman Father Nathan Reesman is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, ordained in 2006. He is the Shared Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, and also of Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, both in West Bend, Wisconsin. Father Reesman is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, obtaining his Bachelors of Arts in Political Science in the year 2000. He completed his seminary studies at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 2006, obtaining a Masters of Divinity. Father Reesman completed post-graduate studies at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, obtaining a Doctor of Ministry in 2019.
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