Today I heard for the first time all the names of the eight people who were killed in three Atlanta-area spas:
- Daoyou Feng
- Hyun Jung Grant
- Suncha Kim
- Paul Andre Michels
- Soon C. Park
- Xiaojie Tan
- Delaina Ashley Yaun
- Yong A. Yue
The names are as distant as they are familiar. So, I grieve. I grieve with and for the families of those who lost their loved ones. And though I don’t know much about their histories or backgrounds, their joys and sorrows, I know this: all eight, like me and my loved ones, are bearers of God’s image, having been fearfully and wonderfully made by the powerful and providential God of the universe. Yet their lives are now tragically and irreversibly gone in a senseless and horrific act of violence.
But I also grieve because I fear for my loved ones. Even though I’m several thousand miles away and this incident seems so isolated, nevertheless for me, it still hits close to home. I worry for my Korean-American wife, similar in age to those who were killed. I’m anxious for my daughters, ages 20 and 18, for the possibility (probability?) that they too might be numbered among the almost 3,800 who from March 2020 to February 2021 experienced anti-Asian incidents of harassment, discrimination, and acts of violence. How do I deal with this grief and pain?
As someone who follows Christ and believes in God’s sovereignty, I know I shouldn’t worry for my wife and my two daughters. But right now, as I see and speak those eight names, my mind is having a hard time convincing my heart. It’s too personal and painful.
The Bible teaches the unmistakable truth that nothing happens in my life without my heavenly Father knowing about it and ordaining it. In fact, God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 4).
So, even this heinous and tragic event is part and parcel of God’s providence. It’s hard to imagine and believe, but I know that without the reality that God is good, and that he is in control, I would be in complete despair.
John Calvin, in a particularly insightful section of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, says that understanding God’s providence brings relief and freedom “not only from the extreme anxiety and fear that were pressing him before, but from every care. . . . His solace, I say, is to know that his Heavenly Father so holds all things in his power, so rules by his authority and will, so governs by his wisdom, that nothing can befall except he determine it” (1.17.10).
Calvin knew that everything that happens in life, even the dark things, is never outside the will and wisdom of God. So, he took comfort and found peace in surrendering to the truth that not even the sparrows that fly and fall is outside the care and concern of God (Matt 10:26–33).
But Calvin also knew that sin and sin’s effects continue to cast a dark shadow not only in our own hearts but also in our world.
Though it may be true that the murders were prompted solely by an individual struggling to take captive his sexual addictions, it’s not unreasonable to see the convergence of this perversion to the probable sexualized objectifying of Asian women, leading to the choice to target these specific places while bypassing others.
So, while I may never fully know the internal motives that drove the murders, I nevertheless have to wrestle with the reality that the United States has a history of dehumanizing people of color, especially women. For me, then, this evil act must be seen within that historical and social context. I must see both individual agency and situational contexts.
The pain I feel, then, is not only for the families of the victims. It’s also for those who’ve been subjected to the pain of discrimination and prejudice; to the shame that comes in being dehumanized or destroyed because you look different. From the lynching of Chinese Americans in 1871 to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the history of anti-Asian sentiment is real. And while my history is different, I’ve felt similar pain and shame.
Furthermore, though I recognize that correlation does not always equal causation, and that there doesn’t seem to be a direct link between the shooter’s childhood in an evangelical church and his sinful actions, this event is nonetheless difficult for me to process. So, while I want to be careful in drawing conclusions before more data emerges and is interpreted, I nonetheless grieve that murderers, be they from Georgia or California, are from churches that are similar to mine.
This is why my commitment to providence leads to prayer, even in pain. As my friend Mark Vroegop taught me in his book Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation, the biblical language of lament, especially in the Psalms, helps put into words the deep groanings of my soul. These prayers of lament provide a path from pain to hope: “Prayers in pain lead to trust—together. Tears, love, and unity replace misunderstanding, distrust, and hurt.”
So, I will continue to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). I will start with compassion, not caution. I will tenaciously bring those who are hurting and broken to the feet of Jesus, for healing and restoration through the gospel. Can we lament . . . together?
With all the sin and brokenness around me, I need the gospel. As I lift up prayers of lament to my Father in heaven, I not only cast my cares and complaints to my gracious God, but I also begin to reorient my heart and life on the good news that the perfectly sinless Jesus Christ took my sin and shame upon the cross, yet rose in glory for my justification and adoption. So even though this pilgrim journey is marked with pain, I continue to walk with him in trust and obedience.
As I process this tragedy and write these reflections, I want to recommit myself to live by the reality that this world is not my home. I’m an eschatological pilgrim, on a difficult journey to my heavenly abode, awaiting the feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb with brothers and sisters from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. And with one voice we shall sing a new song, crying,
Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9–10)
But until that day, I want to love those who are hurting, by listening to them and lamenting with them. I want to help my family, especially my daughters, see the beauty of Jesus, knowing that his perfect love casts out fear and worry.
I want to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry, especially as I seek to winsomely pastor those I love understand the history and pain of racism and how the gospel is the only solution to that sin. Kindness leads to repentance.
I want to be neither too proud nor too discouraged to keep praying and pursuing peace. After all, I’m eternally loved and accepted by the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
Then, as we grow in our love and trust in God and with one another, I want to leverage our time, talent, and treasures to work toward more gospel faithfulness and fruitfulness—in our homes and our churches, in our institutions and communities.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.