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Las Vegas shooting brings more human suffering, but some find hope mixed with the grief

Martha Quillin, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Religious News

As investigators try to figure out why a 64-year-old man opened fire onto an outdoor concert crowd in Las Vegas Sunday night, killing at least 58 people and wounding hundreds more, some people of faith pondered a more eternal question: Why do terrible things to happen to innocent people?

"The suffering of very good people is a theme that just comes up time and again," said Cameron H. Jorgenson, associate professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Campbell University's Divinity School in Buies Creek.

"It's a necessary question because of the universality of suffering," he said. "Great people, beloved of God, experience great suffering, and people want to know what to make of that."

He spoke before the shooting in Las Vegas but after a series of natural disasters caused death and devastation in the United States and Latin America.

In the past six weeks, Americans have grieved for the suffering of residents of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico as a series of hurricanes killed dozens of people and left countless homes in ruins. An earthquake in central Mexico killed at least 360 people and injured at least 6,000 more on Sept. 19.

Though Sunday's mass shooting was a man-made disaster, it brought about more wailing as people took to Twitter to ask the question David asked in Psalm 13: "How long, O Lord?"

Others used the internet to complain that a common response of the faithful to the suffering of others -- the offering of thoughts and prayers -- is hollow.

"Our grief isn't enough," Hillary Clinton posted in a reference to gun-control legislation. "We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA and work together to try to stop this from happening again."

Last semester, Jorgenson led a divinity school alumni retreat focused on the theme of human suffering. Jorgenson and his wife had recently suffered a family loss, he said, "So my mind has certainly wrestled with these questions."

The group looked at examples of historical figures who endured great suffering, including Job, the Old Testament figure beset by one personal tragedy after another, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident who was arrested, imprisoned, held in concentration camps and finally hanged in 1945 by the Hitler regime.

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