How Long, O Lord?

By Scott Seaton
On Tuesday of this week, 19 children and two adults were slain in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Nine days earlier in California, a gunman opened fire in a church, killing one and wounding five others. And just the day before, 10 people were murdered in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. 10 days of tragedy, all in places that were supposed to be “safe.”

The day after the elementary school shooting, an 11-year old in Pennsylvania saw his father crying, and asked if it was about Uvalde. “Yeah,” the father said. “It’s really sad and I worry about y’all.” “It’s okay, Dad,” the son replied, “we train for this.”

Sixth graders train for this? No, that’s not okay. None of this is. And so our hearts cry out, not only in grief, but also for justice. We instinctively know that none of this is “okay.”

The psalms give us permission—and the words—to cry out. We’ve often turned to them, to lead us in lament, to give voice to our confusion and anger, to plead for justice and hope for wrongs to be righted.

But the passage that’s been on my mind the most this week is from Zechariah: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” (Zech. 8:4–5). It’s a picture of life as we know it ought to be: where men and women can grow old, rather than have their lives senselessly ended in a grocery store or church. Where children can play safely, rather than literally fear for their lives at school.

Back up a few verses for the context, where God calls his people to render justice to all, and especially to the most vulnerable: “The word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”” (Zech. 7:8–10). In other words, “thoughts and prayers” are never enough. Yes, we are to grieve and pray. But God’s people also have a responsibility to seek justice and protection for the vulnerable. Christians are to be known for standing in the gap, seeking solutions to evil and injustice.

What troubles me, though, is that like the people of God in Zechariah’s day, we’ll refuse to act because we refuse to listen: “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets.” (Zech. 7:11–12).

Of course, Christians will disagree on solutions, as we all lack the wisdom and insight to solve our most difficult problems. But it’s quite another thing to refuse to hear the cries, in Texas, California, New York, and make our hearts hard. Diamond hard.

So as we lament in grief and cry for justice, let us also ask the Lord to soften our hearts that we would hear. And as the Lord dwells in our midst, that he would say of us, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.” (Zech. 8:8). That would truly be a “marvelous sight” (Zech 8:6).