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“Sometimes there are weeks when the news comes faster than your heart can keep up.”

That’s what Cornerstone Church lead pastor Mark Vance told those gathered at a prayer meeting this morning for two young women shot and killed in the church parking lot Thursday night. The Iowa State University students, 22-year-old Eden Montang and 21-year-old Vivian Flores, were attending the first summer meeting of the church’s student ministry when an ex-boyfriend pulled up and shot them both before killing himself.

“This past Sunday as we went into the message, I shared a quote from pastor J. D. Greear, where he said sometimes there are weeks when the news comes faster than your heart can keep up,” Vance said. “It’s true today, right? We’re gathered here to pray, to try to do something in front of God that lets our hearts keep up to something we can’t quite comprehend—the sort of senseless tragedy you’re not supposed to comprehend.”

Audible weeping could be heard throughout the 90-minute prayer meeting, which included worship songs “Lord, I Need You,” “When Peace Like a River,” and “Living Hope.” During prayer times, quiet guitar music set a somber tone.

Eden’s father spoke briefly from the stage to the darkened sanctuary. “My daughter died here last night,” he said. “One thing I really want everyone to know is that she walked the walk. She died for her faith. I’m proud to have been her father. And I don’t know what more there is to say than she’s with the Lord. She did her best to walk the walk.”

Founding pastor and Salt Network director Troy Nesbitt wept as he spoke about Jesus being a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

“In time, [Jesus] will be the one who won’t be weeping,” he said. “He’ll be wiping away all of our tears and removing all of our pain. But today he weeps with us.”

Vance returned to that theme.

“You don’t worship in Jesus a God who is distant from suffering, but one who moves toward it, who embodies it in his cross,” he said. “In a world that has senseless tragedy, if there’s not a God like that, I don’t know if there is a God I can believe in.”

He closed with a quote from John Stott:

I could never myself believe in God, if it wasn’t for the cross. . . . In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world of brokenness. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. . . . “The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; / they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; / But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, / And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

As Christians, we have hope beyond our grief, Vance told the room. “Because we do know that for two precious sisters that were lost last night, they had already been found by Jesus, which means death won’t be the ultimate word over their life.”

The church can’t be marked by the message of death when she has the One who conquered death, he said. “We’re going to celebrate the resurrection with tears. We’re going to trust in the God who is bigger than our pain. We aren’t going to act like our pain isn’t real—it is. But we also aren’t going to act like God isn’t real—because he is.”

Editors’ note: 

Read TGC’s profile of Cornerstone Church’s student ministry, “How a Small Baptist Church Grew One of America’s Largest Student Ministries,” and also “The FAQs: Intimate Partner Shooting Occurs Outside of Iowa Church.”