School shootings: We ask why, but need peace
By Christian Piatt
(Originally printed in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper)
On Monday, Charles Carl Roberts entered a peaceful one-room Amish schoolhouse with the intention of slaughtering all of its young female occupants, as well as himself. As of Monday afternoon, four children, a young teaching assistant and the attacker all were dead, with five more still in critical condition.
In a call to his wife, and in notes he scribbled out prior to the attack, Roberts evidently was acting on some two-decade-old grudge, seeking revenge for some injustice he suffered some time back. Reports reveal that Roberts may have had a history of sexually abusing children.
Roberts was not Amish, and seems to have no particular connection with the community or the school he attacked. It is thought that his choice of targets was based more upon convenience.
This is the third attack in a school setting in a little more than week, and the whole string of incidents smacks of the Columbine shooting, which occurred in Denver several years ago. My wife, Amy, was a youth minister in Denver at the time, and one of her girls was a friend of the shooters. She spent weeks counseling the girl, her family, and others who were less directly affected, yet impacted nonetheless.
The first question that most people begin with has something to do with why such a senseless, violent event has to take place. How does the human mind end up accommodating such diabolical notions? How divorced from one’s divine spirit must one become to even consider the murder of children? How does someone so young, with so much ahead of them, determine that their time on earth is complete, to be cut short by their own hand?
I’ve found that there are no satisfactory answers in cases such as these, and I’d go so far as to suggest we’re not really seeking answers. What we want is to reclaim a sense of peace. Such things cannot ever be understood, any more than an act of so-called “justice” could satisfy the survivors. No matter what, we’re left with pain, confusion, anger, despair, and in some cases, abject hatred.
So how do we go about rediscovering a sense of peace amid so much suffering and bloodshed? After all, it’s not a natural part of the human condition. Those who ascribe to the “everything happens for a reason” mindset have a particularly difficult time with such tragedies, as they must reconcile what they believe about God’s plan with such horrendous human-made consequences.
The only way we find peace is to try to transcend the very humanity of the experience. At the essence of life is suffering, and if that is all we lay claim to, it’s all we’re left with. But in acknowledging that we not only don’t understand life sometimes, but that we also cannot control it, we are relieved of the curse of why’s and how’s that get us nowhere closer to the peace we desire.
Ironically, this transcendence, for many, is found in a community of faith. For the Amish, the very bonds that hold them together are the same ones that marry them to their faith. The two are inseparable. Yet even when this peace-loving and peace-living community is encroached upon by the violence of the outside world, you hear no cries for retribution. You don’t even hear complaints of the unfairness of life. What we witness is a community that comes even closer together to support one another, to remember and begin the slow healing process.
No one can make sense of these recent events. We may never completely understand Roberts’ motivations, and even if we did, we would still live with the stain of his murdering binge. However, the prayerful, peaceful response of those who suffered the most – as unnatural as it may seem – makes all the sense in the world.