The Day After Sutherland Springs: Rend Our Hearts

Rend your hearts—that phrase was on my mind all day yesterday. Rend is such a powerful, resonant word. In Joel’s prophecy it evokes an awful sense of being internally ripped apart. It summons thoughts of a savage, emotional tearing that leaves ragged edges expressed in sobs and wails.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:12–13 ESV).

Reading this passage in church on Sunday morning about ten hours before the vicious assault on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, we had no idea that an unconscionable, palpable rending of hearts would soon follow.

Twenty-six people were torn out of the fabric of this life by a wicked man wielding a rifle. At least twenty others were wounded. And an entire community was forever changed. The only seemingly right response to the thought of the congregation—children, mothers, sisters, brothers, grandfathers—bleeding in the pews where they worshiped is to feel utterly torn apart.

An ocean away from this tragedy, I still feel it—this corporate rending of our hearts in the family of faith.

Call to Return

Joel doesn’t have to instruct us today to purposely rend our hearts. They’re already torn to pieces. But we may need to be reminded that our rending and mourning aren’t in vain. They, with terrible poignancy, prompt us to return to the Lord—to turn our eyes to the only One who can heal and save completely. And to remember that when we return, we will find grace and steadfast love in his presence (Joel 2:13).

“On a day when we’ve been reminded just how crooked the human heart can become, our passion for God’s mission should burn brighter than ever.”

So we wait, with hearts broken over continual injustice, in anticipation for the day of the Lord, because on that day the Lord’s justice will roll down like thunder, innocent blood will be avenged, all that’s been stolen will be restored, and the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Joel 2:25–29; Is. 11:9).

Today, we long for a reckoning. But more than vengeance, the prophets urge believers to crave redemption—to desire all that is broken be made right. When Peter stood to preach on the day of Pentecost, he quoted at length from the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16–21). He reminded the crowd of the coming of the day of the Lord, and in light of it, he called them to rend their hearts and return. We seek, like Peter, to call others to repentance and belief because the day of the Lord is at hand (Acts 2:38–39).

When Tragedy Inspires Mission

Tragedies like the one at Sutherland, then, serve as a reminder to repent and return to the Lord and to encourage our family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. “Save yourselves from this crooked generation,” Peter cried (Acts 2:40 ESV).

On a day when we’ve been reminded just how crooked the human heart can become, our passion for God’s mission should burn brighter than ever. Because the only hope for humanity is Jesus. The only way the coming day of the Lord will become a day of hope is if we hold to the unwavering truth of redemption through the gospel and share it with others.

Celebrating the gospel, especially in the midst of mourning, is one of the most powerful testimonies to our belief in the reality of resurrection. It declares the fact that the only hope we have in the face of death is eternal life—a reward won for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on our behalf. How can we now keep silent?

As a community in Texas prepares for too many funerals, we remember the hope-filled visions of the prophets who revealed the future of those who return to the Lord. Isaiah promised that one day, God will “swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth. . . . Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us” (Is. 25:8–10).

Those who perished yesterday in a sanctuary in Sutherland—those who had repented and returned to God through his Son—awoke to the sheltering presence of the Savior. They’re living—truly, fully, wonderfully alive—in the goodness of his grace.

We who are still waiting, say come. With so many who’ve gone before us, we say come, Lord Jesus! Come wipe away these tears. Come set right all that we’ve made wrong. And until that time, fill us with your Spirit that we may call others to return to you, and in you find salvation and life.

Eliza Thomas is a writer serving with IMB. She has lived with her family in Central Asia for more than a decade.