How does a secular nation navigate through grief?

It is a very strange thing watching my modern, western nation mourn. For five solid days my entire country has been throwing itself with abandon into a spirit of philanthropy and religious fervour such as has never been seen since WWII. Prayers are being offered to any god that will listen; religious leaders are shaking hands across the aisle; discussions on the correct procedure to denote respect at a mosque are being held on talk back radio; our Mormon-raised, atheist Prime Minister wears a headscarf (quite appropriately) out of respect to the Muslim families she meets with and the Mongrel Mob are standing guard outside local mosques. Non-believing office workers are visiting mosques in their lunch breaks, removing their shoes and joining in prayers to an Allah whom they have never bowed the knee to before and likely never will again.

This frenzy of religiosity seems admirable on the surface but to me, it sticks in the throat and leaves a bitter aftertaste of hypocrisy. Agnosticism is a banner flown high over our culture, tolerance and egalitarianism acting as touch points for our values. In practice, this works itself out as a base level of studied godlessness, promoting reason, feelings and politics as supreme. This has been pursued even to the point of an attempt to legalise assisted suicide, that peculiar combination of reason and emotion that works itself out in the destruction of our neighbours.

But when destruction visits without our permission, oh how different it is. Our priorities find their true order, our weaknesses and fears become immediately and embarrassingly obvious and people start looking at the faith community with a mixture of envy and hope. And it is for this reason that I am beginning to nurse a low-grade simmer of excitement for what the tragedy in Christchurch could do for the people of New Zealand.

As my family and I have suffered through the trials of mental and physical illness over the last five years, I had this piece of Scripture taped to my kitchen door:

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. – Romans 5:3-5

We have learned that strength and hope follows weakness and our selfishness and laziness is pared away in trials of many kinds. Suffering has come to New Zealand and I pray that the provocation of evil in a place where independence of mind is an ultimate good, may cause the sort of soul-searching that leads not to the opiate of the masses but to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. He promises us that he is gentle and lowly in heart, a master that will lead us by quiet waters and restore rest to our souls. A true hope in his unseen presence and providence will bring the sort of peace that no river of flowers or money could ever achieve.

Naïvety dies alongside it’s people.

It’s the sort of thing that only happens to other people doesn’t it? Tragic, yes. Appallingly callous, certainly. But far away. Sometimes I call this my “only in America” file.

Not today.

A massacre has occurred in my own city, a community destroyed as they worshipped. There are fists shaking at the sky all over New Zealand, a great collective WHY welling up in a country that has lost its naivety in a truly brutal fashion.

Forty-nine lives. Forty-nine deaths. Another memorial to add to the years of mourning suffered by this city as the spectre of nihilism visits its terrible logic on a people whose biggest struggles revolve around the purity of our water supply. And boy have we been woken up to the reality of things.

We do not understand our own potential. The depths of human depravity have been exposed and we are forced to examine our own souls for the same capacity to destroy and deceive. One of our local commentators said something very wise today – that healthy communities require boundaries and consequences. The internet has neither of these things and the perpetrators of today’s atrocities have been allowed to breathe in the darkness and exhale insanity on the “other” without check.

I have been very struck by the juxtaposition of two things today. For some time now, a global strike from school has been planned by the children of the world to highlight the evils of climate change. They have received much air time. Arguments about the ethics of such a strike, it’s legality in light of truancy laws, it’s potential for exploitation and its good intentions. And sure enough, a large-ish number of conscience-stricken young people marched on their towns and cities, demanding for the supremacy of their cause.

Then death came knocking. And death will not allow you to prioritise anything else. When death comes to you, the supremacy of life becomes self evident as the dross of cultural concerns are washed away. Their moment of glory has been, I think rightly, subsumed.

May our Lord and Father bring his comfort to Christchurch. Our pain is not light to him and his sympathy is real. He will not waste an ounce of our suffering. Nor is he surprised by our sin. Lord use it to bring your glory.