A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
Last year at Christmastime I posted two essays about homecomings—joyous reunions of loved ones gathering together. I talked about the Chilean Mine Rescue and The Miracle on the Hudson and a special homecoming for our family—when all fourteen of our children, grandchildren, and sons-in-law came for Christmas, including our son Andy who surprised us by coming home from Spain unexpectedly.
This year there will be no joyous homecomings for the families whose loved ones were lost in the Sandy Hook tragedy. The victims will not be coming home, and their places at the table will be empty this Christmas and every Christmas to come. The whole nation is weeping with those who weep. Even those of us who did not know the children look into their innocent faces and refuse to be comforted, because they are no more.
Besides our prayers and cards and support, we would do well right now to follow the example of Job’s friends in the one good thing they did—“they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13). Grieving people don’t need platitudes or empty words of cheer.
But when the time is right, is there anything that we as Christians can offer to families facing such devastating loss? We are the bearers of the gospel—the good news. Do we have any good news for them? Our go-to verse for inexplicable affliction—Romans 8:28—can ring hollow; what possible good could ever make up for such horrific evil? And even if some good for somebody does come about, the families of the victims know that their lives will never be right again.
And yet…we know from God’s Word that He is good and righteous and sovereign and just. How will He show His goodness and righteousness and sovereignty and justice? Can He ever make things right again? By faith we affirm that He will right all wrongs and bring about His perfect justice. But what will His justice look like?
Some time ago I asked myself that question. It seemed to me that true justice involves both punishing the wrongdoers and making restitution to those who have been wronged. In the case of robbery, for example, justice is not served unless the thief is punished and the goods are returned to their rightful owner. Certainly God’s justice will include judging and punishing the offenders and restoring what was lost to the victims. As I wrote in that essay,
God is the Just Judge and will ultimately bring about complete and perfect justice. Every injustice perpetrated in our world will be corrected by the One who judges justly. In His infinite wisdom He knows all the hurts that have been suffered, and He will perfectly execute all the components of justice: punishing all the evildoers, making restitution to all who have been wronged, and rewarding all who do good.
Clearly this perfect justice can never come about through our human justice system in this life. Our hope has to be in God’s ability to bring it about in the end. Because Adam Lanza took his own life, he will never even be dealt with by the human justice system. But rest assured that he faces a far more terrifying judgment—standing before the Judge of all the Earth. He will have to answer to God Himself. He will not get away with anything.
And what about his victims? Our justice system is utterly powerless to bring them back to life and restore them to their families. As I wrote earlier,
Most troubling of all, what about murder? How often have family members and friends of a murder victim expressed relief that some measure of justice has been accomplished with the conviction of the murderer, only to add “It will never bring our loved one back.” No, our human justice system is absolutely powerless to bring about full justice in the sense of restoring the lives of those who have been murdered. We can take another life to even the score, but we can’t achieve real equity.
But God can! He is fully able to bring about complete restitution for all losses, including bringing murder victims back from the dead to be reunited with their loved ones…. I believe that His infinite wisdom and infinite power and infinite righteousness will be able to achieve perfect justice…. Only God could weave together the infinite number of factors in the lives of all humanity to bring about perfect justice for all. There is hope! God will punish all evil, reward all good, and restore all that has been lost. He will establish justice on the earth and bring justice to victory! (Mt. 12:20)
Even Adam Lanza will be judged with complete justice. I’m sure there are many who think he should burn in hell forever. But we can’t forget that this young man who was barely out of his teens was once a lost and lonely little boy himself. Only God knows all the circumstances of his life and is able to make right whatever may have happened to him. The fact that there is hope for Adam Lanza means there is hope for all of us and hope that one day everything will be made right and there will truly be peace on earth.
The thought of judgment and restoration at some distant, unknown future time may seem small comfort to those who want someone to pay now and who live with the daily reality of a hole in their heart that nothing can fill. But we have to hang on to the reality that God will fulfill His promises, even if we don’t understand how or when. He will be the “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6). And as He promises in Revelation,
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:3-4).
We cannot promise that everything will be made right in this life. The hole in the heart will not go away, the tears will keep coming, the empty place at the table will not be filled. But we can help those who are grieving to know the God who is near to the brokenhearted. We can reach out to other lost and lonely children and adults and introduce them to the One who loved them so much that He laid down His own life for them. We can try to reflect the character of God in our lives so that others will know what He is really like and be drawn to Him, the One who binds up the brokenhearted and comforts those who mourn. In the words of Handel’s Messiah, taken from Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God.” We can help people hang on to the blessed hope that God will reconcile all to Himself (Col. 1:19-20) and bring about the restoration of everything (Acts 3:21). We can help each other cling to the conviction that God will not fail to bring about the glorious future He has promised. One day death will be reversed and “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). There will be a stupendous homecoming, and all those who have been snatched away by death will be restored to those who love them. All tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. As Peter says, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). God has promised and He will do it: one day all our sorrow will be overwhelmed with inexpressible joy.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.