Westroads Mall at Twenty till Two
Where's God When Things Go Real Bad?
It's about 1:00 in the afternoon as I sit down to write this. Yesterday at this time I'd just finished a bite of lunch and returned to my office to discover the Internet was down. "I'll zip over to Panera," I thought to myself. Free Wi-Fi, a cup of hazelnut and I'd be back in business! I almost always pray for a parking spot when I pull in, and "Yes, indeed" I found a great spot not far from the entrance to the coffee shop. I think I even said something like "Thank You, Jesus" as I locked my door and turned to enter the building.
The place was still crowded from lunch. The only spot I could find was in the front of the shop next to the unlit fireplace. I grabbed a round table, opened my Dell lappy and started working on my project.
About 10 minutes into my session I heard a loud, sharp slamming sound coming from the hall. Another slam... and another. A little perturbed, I looked out the front entrance thinking, "Wow, do those guys know how much noise their clumsy construction is causing?" Another series of explosions followed immediately - six or eight. I looked up again, and this time realized something far worse was happening.
People began running past the entrance of Panera. Some ran into the store. A man carrying a toddler with a horrified look on his face speechlessly hustled past the counter and out the rear exit. Two more seconds later another man slid into the front of the dining area like a baseball player stealing second. A third person ran over to the table I was sitting at and started crawling under it - pushing my legs aside.
Another series of shots rang. My next prayer was something like a mildly audible, "Oh dear Jesus, what is happening out there?" I couldn't move. I wasn't sure I wanted to at first. A mall security officer then appeared telling us to move to the back of the store while the gate started descending over the entrance. I grabbed my things, tripped over the guy on the floor and rushed for my car. Police vehicles headed into the mall parking lot as I headed back to Christ Community - Internet or no!
Where were you, God?
I've often thought that if I were ever in a situation like a shooting, some incredible surge of bravery would kick-in and I'd find an amazing sense of presence to intervene. Have you ever caught yourself thinking that? Truth is, when something that brief and terrifying takes place, there's very little time for bravery or faith to quell the rush of "fight or flight" that races down your spine. Yesterday at Westroads there were hundreds of terrified people counting on someone or something to shield them from harm. What a grown man was thinking crawling behind my shins for protection I'll never figure out. It was an insane experience - even the mild dose I was subjected to. If God wasn't present already, there certainly wasn't time to call Him to the scene. And if God was there, He chose not to intervene in such a way that prevented the tragic loss of life that happened.
What do we need now that it's over? We need to go to God with this tragedy. Just as Mary and Martha called Jesus to account for their brother's needless death, it's OK for us to bring God our fears, our anger... our disillusionment. If we survived that hellish scene yesterday, we can thank God that things didn't turn out differently for us. God was definitely with us in a moment of profound vulnerability. Yet for the sake of the victims, their families, friends and loved ones, our hearts ache for a sense of God's presence today. Let's reach out to God instead of staying in our coccoons of TV newscasting.
Feel free to send us your thoughts. How are you experiencing God in the face of yesterday's events? If you could ask God a question or shout something at Him, what would it be? How can we share our city's loss and help bear each other's grief?
I encourage you to gather with others, talk about what happened and what it means. There are lots of gatherings for prayer happening around the city. Tonight at Christ Community we'll have a prayer service at 6:30 in the Sanctuary. Come be a part.