December 17, 2012

Weeping with those who weep–a first-hand response from Newtown

by Joey Newton

GriefThe church I pastor is three miles from the site of Friday’s slaughter, where 26 people were murdered. Certainly this event will in some way define and shape the spiritual life of the community for decades to come. I know it will profoundly affect my family; many of those killed were the same age as one of my three daughters.

I spent last Friday in the counseling center the town set up, where families had gathered waiting to hear the names of their child, or to see if any new information came out. At one point an official came in and let everyone know —as best he could—that if their children were still unaccounted for, than certainly they were among those who had been slain. All afternoon there was, understandably, weeping. All I could do was take any opportunity I had to minister grace to them.  

“Weeping with those who weep” was the first and obvious biblical command to apply. It was not difficult to do. This event was tragic, and I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child, of waking the next morning to an empty bed that would not be filled again. For those who suffered loss and are not Christians, I prayed that God would reveal himself to them, and point them to Christ. For those who do know the Lord, I sought to encourage them by reminding them that God is still on his throne, and that this—as hard as it is to imagine—is part of his permissive will. There is good at the end of this unspeakable evil. Maybe some will come to faith in Christ through this trial. Maybe believers will be encouraged to trust God more deeply, and live for Him more faithfully. We don’t know what the good is, but we know that God’s word promises that for those who are called by God, all things work together for our spiritual good and his eternal glory.

newtown signDavid understood this truth when his son died. He took comfort in the knowledge that his child would not come back to him, but that he would go to that child when he himself would die, and be in the presence of the Lord.

The challenge in this trial is, of course, to find comfort in the sovereignty of God and in the reality of grace; not to minimize the suffering, but to give hope and shine the light of God’s ultimate glory in it. Through God’s grace he gives believers the ability to look past the shocking loss and the hideousness of this sin, and (with time) to start to see his glorious purpose through this evil.

But now—right now—we are dealing with the fact that this act was unspeakably evil. These murders show us the wickedness of man and the depravity of the heart. All of us have this capacity for evil in us—we don’t all commit this kind of heinous crime, but the reality of sin is ever present. And that realization is what then leads to the glory of the cross. There is a savior who bore the curse of the law that the wickedness in our hearts deserves. There is a savior who is greater than this act of malice. In that sense, the more wicked the sin, the more glorious the cross. Hence in the greatest of all tragedies—the murder of Jesus—God was working grace, with the goal that His grace would be known by us.

It has to be noted that this kind of sin and horrible loss is not absent in the pages of Scripture. Job had his family murdered by the devil, and Job responded with a heart of faith: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And Job’s faith in the sovereign hand of God must remain ours now.

CrossAt the same time, we remember that Job also asked “why?” as we are prone to do. We must realize, however, that God never answered Job’s why question, nor did he permit Job to question his wisdom. Instead, God simply pointed Job back to his own glorious character, sovereignty and wisdom. And Job found a place of blessedness when he rested there. His blessing came by resting in the glorious purposes of God. I think we want answers, but God does not give us answers. Instead, he reveals his character and glory. And that is faith—leaning on the sovereign hand of God. Not knowing why, but knowing who to lean on through the loss. God does not answer our questions; he IS our answer.

In suffering, the purpose of God is to lead us to Himself and His sufficiency in Christ. God pointed Job to His revealed glory in creation, yet we have so much more. Job did not know about the cross where God would reveal His glory, grace, and character as He had not done previously. He crushed his Son for sinners. He demonstrated his love in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of the character of God. Death is not the end of the story for those who turn to Christ, but eternal life in the Son is.

That is why, at the end of every day (but especially last Friday), we pray that God would point people to the cross of Christ. That in this terrible crime that places the horrible consequences of sin and the reality death before us, that the glorious message of life in Christ would advance through his people. Thus, against the darkness of such evil, the light of Christ would shine more brightly.

Joey Newton

Posts

Joey is the pastor-teacher of Newtown Bible Church in Newtown, Connecticut.
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  • The Rev. R. David Reynolds

    Brother Joey Newton, I love your posts. I am a newly retire, evangelical United Methodist pastor from the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference and a 1970 graduate of Asbury University, nee College, and 1973 one of Asbury Theological Seminary. All of AMERICA weeps and prayers for the families of the victims of the Newtown tragedy. God bless you, your family, and your continued ministry my BIC, i. e. Brother in Christ. BTW, if you are on Facebook, I would like to have you as a Facebook friend.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rocketeer928 Chris Karpenko

    Well written, Joey. May God be glorified in this article.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/karl.heitman.5 Karl Heitman

    Pastor Joey, I’m encouraged to know there are biblical counselors on the ground where this happened. I’m sure you’ve taken a second to realize that God saw it fit to place you there according to His will so that you could minster the Truth to these people who are in need of hope.

  • kevin2184

    Excellent article Joey. Thanks so much for writing it. Our God is indeed “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). I’ll be praying that the Lord uses you mightily during this unspeakable tragedy…as He already is.

  • Ted Johnson

    I thank God for giving you such clear thinking in the triage of this situation. I am grateful you and Parker are there to minister. Our church is praying for you guys and your church to be a true light there, and for the true comfort of the Gospel to come to these families.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tanya.floyd1 Tanya Garner Floyd

    Thank you for not “covering’ the truth and grace of God in your article. I was already praying for revival in our nation and then, this happened. How many times does it take the forceful, even brutal snatching of what we hold dear to force us to turn to God. HE, after all, is the ONLY source of true comfort because He “lists my tears,”(Psalm 56:8) and NOTHING we sacrifice for Him will not be paid back in rivers of eventual satisfaction. I will be praying for the Holy Spirit’s ministry through your life and church.

  • Ed Wais

    We have been praying for you and will continue.
    Grace and peace

  • John_D_11

    Hi Joey –

    I liked your post, and I think those thoughts and truths are accurate and instructive for the audience of this blog, although I’m not sure the people of Newtown are ready for terms/concepts like “God’s permissive will” or Romans 8:28. Those truths are important, but I think the tone of weep with those who weep, which is the title of your post, are more appropriate for right now, at least for the next few months until some of the initial emotions are cleared. Just a deep, tearful hug, and maybe “God knows what you’re going through, he’s lost a Son too” seem adequate to me. I’m actually crying now as I type this. 2 Corinthians 1 also comes to mind, regarding “The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

    My neighbor hung himself in his garage last year, leaving a wife and three young children. This severely disrupted our neighborhood. I was a biblical counseling major at TMC, but I could not think of anything to say or do for them except mow their lawn and hang their Christmas lights and take their kids on hikes with our family. We also hosted a prayer meeting at our house and invited everyone in the neighborhood, including non-believers and several Mormons, and put together a meal schedule for them. Now over a year later we’ve had opportunities to invite them to church and share Christ with them.

    I’ll be praying for you Joey. I am SO GLAD you and your family are there to minister in this tragedy. Thanks for sharing this post. Also, if you could please reply to this comment or provide a follow up post with ways we can help you and your church minister in that community I’d really appreciate it. If you need money for meals, or notes of encouragement to the families, or whatever please let me know we want to help, and I’m sure a lot of Christians and many Americans for that matter would like to help as well.

    • Heather

      It’s hard to say what is or isn’t the right things to say in a tragedy like this. Every
      person is so different and needs to be comforted in their own unique way, which is why I trust the Holy Spirit is leading Joey and other believers in that community to comfort those families in the exact way the Lord knows they need to be comforted in, just as I trust the Holy Spirit led you to do and say the right things for that wife and 3 kids (and praise the Lord that they have found comfort through your family. Such a tragedy). I don’t know, but maybe reminding them of Romans 8:28 or assuring them through the Word of God that all things are in God’s Almighty hands is exactly what those families and community need to hear right now? Only God knows. I’m sure a deep, tearful hug will be an involuntary reaction these next few months. I, too, am glad Joey and his church are there to minister to those families in this tragedy, and will continue praying that the Holy Spirit will keep giving them the right words/actions of comfort to say/do.

      And, yes…how can we help Joey?

      • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

        Good question Heather. Continue to pray for him and his church, as well for the families of the victims. Joey’s church has an account set up that they will use to help them minister to those affected by this. The info is on thier webpage.

  • Rachael

    Hi Joey. A friend sent me a link to this post you’ve written after reading a blog post I wrote talking about how I’ve been praying for Christians in Connecticut to simply show up among the hurting. We live in the midwest, so very far from CT, and I burst into tears upon reading your article, as my husband and I have been praying all weekend for God’s people to show up. Imagine the impact on an unbelieving (and believing) family for a group of Christians to simply show up, IN PERSON. To attend the funerals of children they don’t know, to rally around these families and simply weep with them, not say anything stupid or trite, but to simply weep. And that those times may be a seed planted…that families will, in time, turn around, and reach out to the local churches who supported them in their deepest pain, and there, find Jesus. Thanks for being a light in CT and for being an answer to our prayers in this blog post. http://theorens.blogspot.com/2012/12/may-gods-people-in-ct-show-up.html

  • Brian Medlin

    Joey, Your words are encouraging. My family and church will be praying for your family and ministry in your community. May God use you in a mighty way! God Bless You my brother. Preach the Word and Love the People!

  • http://www.affectedbytruth.com/ Steve Meister

    Joey,

    Thank you for taking the time to post. We’ve been praying for you specifically as you mourn and minister to others’ for Jesus’ sake. Press on, brother.

    Steve

  • Sukku George

    God does not answer our questions; He IS our answer ~ I have archived this line. Thanks.

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  • Heather

    Amen, Joey. Thank you for these words of encouragement.

    With this happening around Christmas time, my thoughts have been turning to a similar slaughter of innocent children, when Herod ordered all those baby boys to be murdered in hopes of killing the Savior, Jesus. I can only imagine that now many parents in Newton must feel as those parents felt, “…weeping for her children…she refused to be comforted because they were no more.” Mt 2:18. There is something just so horrible, evil, and utterly dark about children being harmed, let alone killed. Sometimes you wonder how you could possibly comfort those parents? Weeping with those that weep and earnestly praying for them is the strongest thing we can do as believers. For those of us who are so far away from Newton, we’ll be praying on our knees, too, not just for the families, but for the church in that city that is doing the will of God by loving and comforting those who are hurting. I only pray that the comfort they receive from believers will turn their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ who can truly heal broken hearts and fill them with peace that passes all human understanding. Jesus was not slaughtered as a baby that night in Bethlehem because His purpose was to ultimately bring peace, not to the earth (Mt. 10:34), but to the souls of those who believe in Him as their Savior (Jn 14:27). I hope and pray that during this year’s bitter Christmas season, these families will find true peace and purpose in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Jn 14:27

  • Ethan T.

    Thanks, Joey. For pointing us back to trusting The Lord. While I’m pretty far removed from the event, I am very curious as to “why”. More a curiosity about what was going through the killers mind. And that’s ok to wonder. But ultimately, from a spiritual perspective, the grand “Why?” s the Lord’s. I do, however, see an immediate good coming from this. I read your article and was encouraged. Many others also have. I was also encouraged on Sunday when my pastors made mention of the event in a way that brings our eyes back to God. Add up all the believers across the country and globe who have received such encouragement and guidance, even if only small, and you have another example of good stemming from this.

  • Joe Fisher

    Joey, This is Joe Fisher and I am the pastor of an SBC church plant right in Hartford, CT. Let us know how we can help or if you need our help. We are more than willing to do what we can. http://www.redeemerhill.org

  • Emily

    you don’t know me but I have prayed specifically for you this weekend. thank you for pointing people to the truth of Christ, the One who knows all our suffering and came to put an end to it.

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  • Richard Deal

    Hi Pastor Joey, I was shocked to see the name of your town on the news on Friday. I remember being with you and your congregation for the Christmas concert in 2008. We are praying for you and your church and your town through this event. May the Lord grant His peace in the midst of this evil. Richard Deal

  • http://www.facebook.com/niki.bolesdavis Niki Boles-Davis

    Well said Pastor. Thank you for sharing His gospel. Thank you for your service to our Lord and His people and the world. We rejoice together and we mourn together.
    Ever grateful for His everlasting arms.

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  • http://twitter.com/need2desireGod Need2DesireGod

    Thank you so much for this article. how timely your grief article was as well.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.g.evans Eric George Evans

    Thank you for your words. Especially hit by this sentence: “In that sense, the more wicked the sin, the more glorious the cross.” I could not think of a crime more wicked than what was done in your town. Therefore I could not think of a savior more glorious than the one who died on the Cross of Calvary. Perhaps more heartfelt than ever before can we proclaim, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”

    http://ericgevans.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/accepting-the-unexplained-hope-after-sandy-hook/

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