Column by Rev. Dr. Clay Smith: Tragedy


This was not the column I planned to write this week. Tragedy interrupts lives, and this week, the madness of tragedy came to my town.

According to news reports, Charles Slacks, recently divorced from his wife, came to her home Tuesday evening. He killed Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Evans, who was talking to Slacks' ex-wife in the backyard. He then proceeded toward the house, his ex-wife running after him. His ex-wife then realized she did not have her cellphone. She went back to Evans' body to look for his phone and call 911. She heard more gunshots. Slack had killed his two children and his stepdaughter in their beds. Then he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.

Police officers and first responders described the scene as the worst they had ever encountered. I can't imagine the nightmares witnessing such a scene will create.

One person shared with me she woke up at 3 a.m. troubled by the shooting. Another person reported to me a sense of helplessness. What can you do for children who are already gone? How do you comfort a mother who loses her children at the hands of a man she loved at one time?

There is no way to make sense of this. What madness would possess a man to kill his own children? How do you explain to children the empty desk in their classroom means their classmate will not be returning? When the neighbors look at the house on Whitetail Circle, how will they ever not think of that awful night when they heard the gunshots? No doubt many will ask, "Could this have been prevented? Why didn't we see the signs? How can we help?" There are so many unanswered questions.

When I face questions that have no answers, I start with what I do know. First, I know we cannot know all we want to know. This is true of every war, of every tragedy, of every unexplainable death. What do you do with unanswerable questions? I find it best to bring them to my Heavenly Father, confess my inability to know, and I leave the questions with him. Or I try to. Sometimes I find after I leave the questions with God, they sneak back into my soul. I must surrender them again.

Second, I know this world is not safe, and I need to stop pretending it is. Because we live in a country that works to be safe, we can be surprised by this reality. Sin and freewill combine to give people the opportunity to hurt and kill people, sometimes even people they love. We will never know exactly what went through the mind of Charles Slacks when he unlocked the door of his old home and went into the backyard. What I can tell you for certain is what God told Cain: "Anger is lurking at your door like a crouching lion…" Neither Cain nor Charles locked that door. They both had the opportunity to not sin, but they let the lion in.

No one has said it yet, but someone will ask, "Where was God?" Why didn't he stop this? It is the great question of the human race. Every world religion struggles to answer this. Every religion comes to the same conclusion: Some things about God are unknowable. Events happen that are unexplainable. We know this, but we do not like the tension it creates. To know that God knows and we do not know means we face a choice: We either trust ourselves or we trust our God. I do not say this lightly; trusting God when your heart is broken with great pain requires faith that goes right to our limit.

So where was God on Tuesday night? He was trying to get through to Charles, and Charles would not listen. He guarded that mom who survived. He wept over Carlos. He welcomed the children to heaven. He stood by first responders who were overwhelmed.

I do not know how God deals with all the trauma of the world. He sees more in a day than we see in a lifetime. This is why I am glad he is an infinite God. I also remember to be thankful his love is vast; his grace is enough, even for tragedies like this.

As this story unfolded, people were urged to hug their children tight. I wish someone would also say, "Work on your issues." Whether it is your marriage, your struggle with anger or respecting boundaries, work on your issues. The temptation to be like Charles Slacks may be closer than you think. God will help you.

I would add one more ancient word, sacred to many: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Thy rod and thy staff comfort me." Whenever tragedy comes, walk with God. When you try to walk alone, evil can overwhelm you. When you walk with God, there is comfort in knowing even if you do not know the answers, you are walking with the one who does.