Several weeks ago, I woke up to an NPR story on the radio. Lying in bed, I heard Greg Gunn’s name for the first time. I learned that Mr. Gunn, who was Black, had been murdered by a white police officer in Montgomery, my old home. This news delivered by this seemingly emotionless reporter shook me like my mom used to wake me to tell me I was late for school. Violently and in an unfair way. My heart was beating fast. And I was confused, disoriented, angry.
The facts were like so many other shootings we’ve heard about… white cop approaches Black man, Black man __fill in the blank with any verb__, white cop shoots to kill. But somehow because it happened in Montgomery, the grief I felt this time was more intimate, as if I’d known Mr. Gunn and his family.
[Sidenote: If you have not heard about Mr. Gunn’s story, I issue a careful warning. The facts are terrible. Really terrible. Before you look it up, pray about whether you’re in a space right now to hear it.]
I don’t know why I was shocked that this could happen in Montgomery. Even though it’s known as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, living there for 5 years taught me that neither the civil rights movement nor the civil war, according to some people, were completely over.
I turned off the radio, and I wish I could say that I got down on my knees and prayed right then. I didn’t. I didn’t immediately remind myself of God’s sovereignty or His ability to turn what the enemy meant for evil into good. I was just in tears, mourning. I kept putting myself in the place of those who heard Mr. Gunn’s cries for help, who were awakened from their deep sleep by his desperate cries for his mother, neighbors, friends.
And then the frighteningly familiar anger returned. Anger at the White police officers—well, I take that back, any/all police officers—who equate Blackness with suspicion. Who don’t see us as potential family members but as potential threats who may take them away from their families.
And if I’m honest, I was also angry at God. That He would allow such a thing to happen. Again.
I was still feeling down when I got to work, which by the way, was really bad for productivity. And lately I’ve been struggling with productivity. Thank God I had a copy of Tim Kellers’ book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, in my office. In the chapter “The Reason for Suffering,” Keller explains how Elisabeth Elliott experienced deep suffering yet she trusted the Lord’s goodness and kindness through it all.
I often try to find the “silver lining” in suffering and tragedies. This is a form of pride and unbelief that Elliot in her book Through the Gates of Splendor warns us against. Both Elliott and Keller relate this to the Cross, comparing it to the many people who urged Jesus to avoid or abandon the Cross. “If Thou be the Son of God come down from the Cross.” Keller and Elliot encourage us to trust God even when there is no silver lining, even when we don’t—and perhaps never will—understand why. I “dethrone [God] in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.” God is God.
That evening I went to our weekly church “family meeting” or Bible study. The pastor walked us through Galatians 1 and noted how Paul begins the chapter by referring to the resurrection. It is in and through the resurrection, he reminded us, that our hope in suffering is found—that Jesus died for my sins so that I might live and have eternal life.
I may never be able to justify or understand what happened to Mr. Gunn. But does that mean that God is any less worthy of my trust? God is God. His own Son died in a way that—back then, on that Good Friday—I would not have understood. But God is God. He is merciful. And gracious. And loving towards all He has made.
It all reminds me of the third verse from one of my favorite hymns, “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery”:
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory
See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold
Father, forgive me for my unbelief. Help me to trust you even when I don’t understand suffering—my suffering or the suffering of those around me. Help me to behold your wondrous mystery.