“Time after time mankind is driven against the rocks of the horrid reality of a fallen creation. And time after time mankind must learn the hard lessons of history—the lessons that for some dangerous and awful reason we can’t seem to keep in our collective memory.” Hilaire Belloc
Day dawned on March 27th in Middle Tennessee with the redbuds blooming, the songbirds trilling, and the gentle breeze blowing under crystalline springtime skies. There was little portent of what the unfolding of the day might bring. Several committees had gathered and were diligently working on preparations for the upcoming stated meeting of the Nashville Presbytery. The senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Chad Scruggs, was in one room, and several of his elders were in the next room over.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, our deliberations were interrupted by a flurry of calls and texts: there was an active shooter at Covenant’s school facility. We emptied into the hallway, stricken, eyes clouded with unbelief, horror, and grief. Spontaneous cries of supplication and intercession went up. The Covenant men hurried on their way back to the church. The rest of us began frenzied monitoring of the news while contacting our own flocks and families to mobilize prayer.
Our worst fears were realized. A disturbed young woman armed with assault weapons and seething hate shot her way into the well-secured building and proceeded to take the lives of three 9-year-old students and three adults before the Nashville Metro Police were forced to stop the assailant with lethal force. One of the victims was the daughter of Pastor Scruggs.
Grief gripped the entire Nashville community. In shock, as pundits and politicians attempted to make sense of the senseless, across our presbytery men and women gathered in their homes, schools, and churches to pray. We did not need to ask, “Why did this have to happen? Why did this have to happen to us?” We know why. It was for precisely this sort of calamity that Jesus came in the first place. He came to deliver us from our sin and the corruption of this valley of tears. Moreover, He comforts us in our pain and sorrow.
Just hours after the shooting, Pastor Scruggs spoke of his beloved daughter Hallie, expressing both the hope and the comfort of the Gospel, “Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again.”
As the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully declares, this is indeed our “only comfort in life and death.” It is simply that, “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
And so, we are able to affirm with the Apostle Paul, “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
We need not lean on platitudes or empty phrases. For ours is the sure and certain promise that He will turn “our mourning into dancing,” He will “loose our sackcloth and clothe us with gladness” (Psalm 30:11-12). Ours is the promise of light and life dispelling darkness and death.
All of us in the Gospel Reformation Network are heartsick over the horror our brothers and sisters at Covenant and throughout Middle Tennessee are enduring. All of us are praying for comforts and consolation that can only come from the treasure house of God’s grace. All of us find ourselves laying hold of the “very great and precious promises” of the Gospel, for them and for ourselves. And so, together, we repeat the refrain of Psalmist,
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever! Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1,4, 29).