Building connection with God leads to hope for better life
As a minister of God, Chaplain (Col.) Scott Carson knows there are times when there are no good answers.
Such is the case with the Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown, Conn., school shooting. It’s human nature to ask why 26 innocent lives were tragically taken by a lone gunman and to question how it could have been prevented. But while psychologists discuss the behavior of the crazed shooter, and politicians debate new laws on gun control, Carson believes understanding the motivations and struggles that led to the tragedy will remain elusive.
“Whenever there is a tragedy in a person’s life, the first thing a chaplain or any minister wants to convey is that we don’t understand what happened either,” said Carson, who serves as the chaplain for the Army Materiel Command and who occasionally ministers from the pulpit at Bicentennial Chapel.
“To try to answer the question ‘Why?’ is one that really nobody can answer. And this is where our faith can sustain us.”
Tragedy is part of life, as history has shown over and over again. It comes into people’s lives at different levels – from the destruction and death brought by natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes; to the sudden loss caused by an accident, such as a car wreck or an industrial mishap; to the terrible mass shootings such as Newtown or the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in July. For a Christian, the source of tragedy at all levels is evil.
“For tragedy at this extent to hit a community like Newtown and particular families is a terrible thing,” Carson said. “In the Christian faith, we call it evil and evil was there on the day this tragedy struck.
“Our society is built to protect us from that evil. But every once in a while, evil breaks through and affects us in a tragic way. It’s a sad fact that death and even sometimes violence is part of this life.”
The death of a Soldier in battle is tragic, and yet the loss can “perhaps be softened by knowing they gave their life for freedom, for liberty, for the American people, and it’s a great honor,” Carson said. “But what happened in Newtown isn’t supposed to happen. The idea of evil like that isn’t supposed to happen here. We, as Americans, expect to battle evil overseas. But we don’t expect it at home.”
For people of faith – whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other faith – hope transcends life on earth, and provides peace and comfort in tragic times.
“When tough times come, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is still with us,” Carson said. “These times are not a time to turn away from your faith and from God. It’s just the opposite. This is a time to embrace God.
“He sends us comfort, and is with us, and will sustain us through these difficult circumstances. He can rebuild us in these times. Faith is a tremendous resource for emotional comfort and support.”
In tragic times, churches, synagogues and other organized faith groups provide a resource of caring people who can sustain each other.
“In a family of faith, the word ‘family’ is key,” Carson said. “When we are part of a faith family, we really do feel we are members of the same community and we want to support each other through these times. Within our faith families, there are people with the gift of mercy and the gift of community. God uses people within our faith communities to help us.”
For those directly affected by a tragedy – whether a murder or deadly accident – or other destructive situation caused by another person, eventually the question of forgiveness must be confronted.
“Forgiveness is a personal question for an individual,” Carson said. “The scripture does talk about forgiveness and, if you choose that path, it will help you in the end.”
He referred to the story of the Dutch Christian Corrie ten Boom, who was imprisoned by the Nazis for helping Jews escape the Holocaust during World War II. She suffered through unspeakable brutality and horrors, including the death of her sister. In her many writings, she emphasizes forgiveness, telling the story of how, after the war while teaching in Germany, she had an accidental encounter with one of the cruelest camp guards she had known.
“She was confronted with the question of forgiveness. In that moment, she had to wrestle with it. But she found forgiveness and it helped her heal,” Carson said.
“The Bible talks about forgiveness. But it also talks about justice. Society does have the responsibility for imposing justice on wrongdoers.”
Yet, what about the clues and signs that may precede a mass murderer’s rampage? Is there a way for faith groups to help prevent tragedy?
“We do have a responsibility to speak up when we do think something is awry in an individual’s life, especially if it seems violent or criminal,” Carson said. “At the same time, society is built on respecting individual privacy. And unfortunately, in reality there are people of faith who also have emotional and psychological issues.
“I would encourage people of faith who know others who have issues in their lives to encourage them to seek help.”
For people of faith, overcoming tragedy involves centering on their beliefs, and strengthening their connection with God, the chaplain said, which makes them a better person who is of more benefit to society.
“Building your faith starts with making God number one in your life and committing your life to Him,” Carson said.
Attending meetings with a body of believers, incorporating a consistent prayer life, reading the scriptures and serving others are all ways that will help people of faith grow closer to God.
“It’s a commitment, a personal decision between you and God that you will endeavor to seek His will in your life,” he said.
“Proverbs 3:5-6 is about trying to understand God’s ways, trying to follow His ways, and choosing His path to follow. He will reveal the way for you to go. If you make a real personal decision to follow the Lord, He will equip you and sustain you, and in the end there will be tremendous blessings.”
Although it is often said that time will heal wounds, Carson said it is not time, but God, that provides healing after tragedy.
“Time helps society. Helping individuals is entirely different,” he said. “People may never get over a tragedy and I wouldn’t expect them to. Counseling, and the support of family and friends can help them with their personal struggle with grief. But faith can sustain them. Trusting in God and having a strong prayer life can give them hope and a way to move forward to have a purposeful life. Faith gives hope that transcends this life.”