Radical Compassion

I have a six year old who is in the first grade a school that is demographically similar to Sandy Hook. Her class is filled with children with the same names as those of the babies who died at that school.

It is incredibly easy for me to have compassion for those children, for their mamas, for their daddies, for the teachers and classmates who survived.

20 children. 6 teachers. So many friends and family. I cry and pray for them as easily as I cry and pray for myself.

I saw a photo of a Sunday worship prayer station an acquaintance planned. There were 28 candles.

20 children. 6 teachers. And the shooter and his mother.

28 candles is not easy. It’s radical compassion.

And this is what’s hard about the Jesus thing. It is so easy to have compassion for the babies. And for the mother.

But what about the shooter?

When I was figuring out how to tell my daughter about the shootings, I got stuck on how to talk about the shooter. I knew she would ask why someone would do something like this.

Every once in a while, she calls her brother “bad” and I remind “People aren’t bad. They do bad things.” (I’m sure this will be an annoying parent phrase she reminds me of later.)

Do I really think that goes for everyone, not just my dear, sweet baby boy, but someone who would shoot children?

Zora was shocked when I told her, “Why would he DO that?”

So I told her, “This man who did it, he must have been so sad and his brain had gotten so sick for him to be able to do something that horrible. It was a really bad thing.”

And then I thought about it: I really do believe this, that God created us good, but that we do bad things because of sin and brokenness.

And in order for a human being, wonderfully and fearfully made by God, to do something this horrible, the only way I can understand that is that they have spiraled so far into some deep, dark place that they cannot get out of.

Our bodies and brains and the chemicals that course through them are part and parcel of how we are created, good. But they are also affected by the soul sickness that we all carry.

And so I think of mental illness and neurological disorders not as something that an individual is somehow responsible for, but as part of the great infection of sin in this world. Much like cancer, that horrible, horrible thing that takes over bodies and destroys them.

And I can only begin to imagine how this mother and father and brother struggled as they tried to figure out what was going on with their boy.

And how this boy must have been tormented and betrayed by his own biology.

I know and love people who struggle mightily with mental illness and with neurological disorders. And, yes, most of them are perfectly safe.

But this is not just about guns. It’s about how we care for each other. How we care not just for our own families, and just for the people who it’s easy to care about. How we are as a society (which, to my mind, means how we care with our tax dollars).

26 candles is easy. 27 isn’t too hard, either.

But there were 28 victims. Hard as that is to say.

My spiritual discipline this week is radical compassion. Prayer not just for the families that grieve sweet children.

But also prayer for families that grieve the tragedy of the sweet child who grew into a young man who fell into such a dark place that he could do something so horrible.

May God cradle us, sinners all, in strong loving arms, and carry us to a place where there is no darkness.

One Response to “Radical Compassion”

  1. Meika Says:

    So true. This is a conversation that I don’t think we’re quite having yet in this gun debate, either. There’s a lot of talk of keeping guns in the hands of good people, and out of the hands of criminals – but I have only one time (in an interview on Fresh Air earlier today) heard acknowledgement that people just don’t slice that way. All of us, shining and holy and broken and corrupted all in one God-made sin-stained package. What a mess.