Lord, If You Had Been Here …

Tuesday morning, January 23, I was sitting in my chair, finishing a cup of coffee. My cell phone dinged that notification that I had a text message. One of my elders texted all the elders and ministry staff that an active shooter was loose at Marshall County High School. No sooner than I read it, my phone rang, and it was my wife informing me of the same. “I have to go,” I replied to her.

One of our sisters at Glendale teaches there, so I immediately text her, “You okay?” She replied, “Yes. Please pray.” Back and forth she and I texted. She was huddled with a few students in a room. I kept texting her, likely to the point of harassment. I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone. I wanted her to know that she was loved and being thought of, and I wanted to try to help her stay calm without knowing what was going on. Afterwards, I prayed.

Later that morning a brother from Glendale called. His wife works in the Marshall County Emergency Room. He told me that she was staying strong, but that he could tell that it was wearing on her. She was treating the wounded as they came in. He had left there with her fleece because it was covered in blood, and he was going to try to clean it at home. He wanted me to know. Afterwards, I prayed.

As the day went on, we decided that due to our proximity to Marshall County and that we had people from the area, that we should have a prayer vigil that evening. We put the details on our Facebook page and sent out a mass email. We also found out that a local church in the affected area would have one an hour before ours, so a few of us went there but had to leave early. At that church, we hugged and loved on brethren whom we often see at summer youth series, church camp, and other area-wide church events. The church in Western Kentucky is strong and cooperative much like how I imagine the early church was.

We left to return in time for our prayer vigil. We had a rather good turnout considering that our vigil was the same time as the basketball game where our county and city schools would face off. At our vigil, children were shaken. Some parents were crying. The teacher and nurse were both there, and we loved them and one another. We prayed for those injured, for the suspect, for those who died and their families, for all school staff. We thanked God for the quick response and bravery of the first responders and those who tended to the wounded.

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Like Martha, I have kept thinking, “Lord, if You had been there.” Martha said these words when she saw Jesus after her brother, Lazarus died. Martha knew that Christ could have prohibited his death. It was as if Martha was asking, “Why weren’t you here to stop it?” Martha didn’t lose faith in Christ or His ability. She said in the next verse, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (John 11:22). Rather than succumbing to doubt about Jesus’ love, care, and ability to prevent the source of her agony and grief, she turned to the Lord.

You and I don’t have the luxury of standing before Jesus, pouring out our hearts and receiving a hug from Him. Yet, we cannot help but think, or maybe even question, “Where were you in this tragedy?” “Why didn’t you stop it?” God, I dare suggest, was there. He was there not in the evil that took place, but in the love that has followed. “God is love,” so John tells us. The love and outpouring of support Marshall County has received are God in action. We love because He first loved us, so the Bible says. Because we have been loved by a gracious God, we love those who are hurting, or as Paul would say, we weep with those who weep.

What Jesus next told Martha was that Lazarus would rise again and that He was the resurrection and the life to those who believe in Him. Though they may die, Christ informs us, they shall live, because whoever believes in Christ shall never die (John 11:23–26). Two precious teens have been laid to rest—Bailey Holt and Preston Cope. May their memory forever be cherished, and may they receive a resurrection to eternal life when the time comes. In the meantime, may they receive comfort in the bosom of Abraham, and may their families who remain here on earth find peace and consolation.

God is still good, and He has put good people in the lives of Marshall County to bind up the wounded, to tend to the hurting, and to counsel the heartbroken. The evil that took place was not the work of God. The evil that took place was the work of the Adversary. He thought he won, but all he did was draw a community closer together. He thought he triumphed, but all he did was to awaken the love of God in Western Kentucky. God is here.

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.