Over the weekend, two mass shootings shocked the nation’s conscience and opened another cultural wound.

The details are still emerging. Two gunmen, in El Paso and Dayton, slaughtered 31 people. In Dayton, nine people lost their lives, and it appears that the shooter was obsessed with mass shootings and violence. He even developed a hit list of religious and political groups.

In El Paso, 22 people were killed. Given a “manifesto” posted online, the shooter’s motivations appear to be more apparent—and appalling. He targeted Hispanics and espoused racist and white supremacist views.

We will eventually know more. In the meantime, there will be political finger-pointing. Various solutions will be offered. The clash of ideas and worldviews will become apparent. And the gravitational pull toward our respective “corners” will be strong.

What Can We Say?

Amid the trauma and tears, how should the church talk about this? Silence sends an unhelpful message, especially to our minority brothers and sisters when they consider the shooting in El Paso. However, the uncertainty of the moment creates an understandable caution.

How do we weep with those who weep when the fog of a national crisis descends?

Christians can start by lamenting. We can use the historic prayer language of sorrow to talk to God about the messy grief we feel. When the psalmist’s life was hurtful and confusing, he reached out to God in prayer, laid out his pain, pleaded for help, and renewed his trust in God.

The Bible is full of this kind of prayer language. More than a third of the psalms are laments. No wonder! The sorrows of life are many.

When tragedy strikes, when the stakes are high, and when it’s important—for many reasons—to express our grief, prayers in pain that lead to trust can be comforting and redemptive.

Lament for Mass Shootings

As I’ve pondered the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, here is my lament.

How long, O Lord!

God, we watch the news in disbelief as we battle despair. In El Paso and Dayton, 31 image-bearers—people who reflected your glory—were killed in yet another mass shooting. We know our world is broken. We know evil is real. We know the loss of life was not limited to El Paso and Dayton this weekend. But the scale of this senseless and wicked assault on human life is shocking and troubling. It causes us to turn to you.

We lament the presence of sin in the world and its destructive effects. We mourn the loss of life that will create empty spaces at dinner tables, birthday parties, and graduations. We weep with family members whose lives will never be the same.

We lament the devaluing of human life and its bitter fruit in our culture. We mourn the demonic rage that would lead to the slaughter of men, women, and children. We weep with El Paso and Dayton in the shattering of their peace.

We lament the wicked ideologies behind these shootings and their devastating results. We mourn beliefs that view people as our enemies because they are different, feelings of prideful superiority over others, and the use of violence to advance a wicked agenda. In particular we weep with our brothers and sisters who deeply feel the targeting of Hispanics and the white supremacist ideology behind the El Paso shooting.

Jesus, we need your help! We call on you to give us comfort and hope in our sorrow. We ask you to give us grace to care for one another during these volatile and divisive times. We plead with you to make churches a place of refuge—a shelter of Christ-exalting, neighbor-loving, compassion-giving people. We beg you to change hearts immersed in deep loneliness, superiority, rage, and hatred. We cry out for the ending of all actions and ideologies that do not fit with your kingdom.

Our King, we thank you for our city and national leaders. Tragedies create important conversations about future solutions. And they also surface deep divisions. Help them to work together for the common good of our communities and for the peace of our nation. In their words and actions, give them wisdom and grant them grace to model the kind of leadership that fits with your heart.

National tragedies remind us about the depth of our collective depravity and our need for a Savior. Our solutions will never be enough to eradicate the sinfulness embedded in our lives and our land. We need you, Jesus, to save and change us—both as individuals and also as a culture. We long for the day when our faith will be sight. We feel the urgency of the need for your return.

Until then we look to you through the tears.

Hope of Redemption

Christians know that our world is broken. We read in our Bibles that the entire creation groans (Rom. 8:22) and that sin has created the curse of death (Rom. 6:23). But we also know the hope of redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Christians long for the day when all tears will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4). We know a day is coming when demonic ideologies and mass shootings will never again threaten the peace of this world.

But until then, we lament.

We grieve the killing of image-bearers. We mourn the hard-heartedness that hurts innocent victims. And we weep over ideologies that broadcast anti-God lies from the pit of hell.

A lament doesn’t solve all the problems. It’s never enough by itself. More can and should be done.

But when a tragedy strikes, and we’re not sure what to say, “How long, O Lord?” is a good place to start.