It’s been a heart-wrenching week for our nation. When the news came out that a young British backpacker had gone missing in Auckland and the Police were concerned for her safety, we all feared the worst. A few days later we heard the words no parent wants to hear: a body had been found. Grace was dead. She had been murdered. She wouldn’t be going home.
Since then came an outpouring of grief rarely seen in this country. There have been vigils, flowers, tributes, as well as countless messages of love and sympathy to the family. Crowds in their thousands turned up in cities across the country – Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin to grieve and remember a beautiful young woman whose life had been cruelly taken.
Her death has also served to highlight the domestic violence problem in this country. New Zealand has some of the worst statistics for sexual abuse and violence against women in the OECD. On average, Police attend a domestic violence call-out every 5 minutes. For a country of 4.7 million, that is unacceptable. We cannot continue to shrug this off – not while women are being mistreated and abused.
If you are a Christian reading this, you have a unique opportunity – while it’s still raw, to speak into this. When it comes to the big issues of day, the one’s that everyone is talking about, Christians are often silent. Then they make a fuss about things nobody cares about (a generalization, but true nonetheless). That sends an unspoken message to the world: our faith has nothing to say on the things that matter. We need to reverse that.
Here are some simple and respectful ways you can engage with those in the world with regard to Grace’s murder:
1. Feel their pain
This is where we must start. If you don’t start here, you don’t earn any right to speak. People are hurting. They are hurting for Grace. They are hurting for Grace’s family in the UK. And they are hurting for all women who have been taken advantage of and abused throughout the years in our nation. You need to enter into this hurt and truly feel it.
This is what Jesus did. He didn’t lecture people about morals and ethics or give simplistic answers to complex problems. Often, when encountering grieving people (as with Mary and Martha, who were utterly bereft over the loss of their brother Lazarus), he didn’t say anything. He grieved with them. He felt their pain.
Grace could have been any one’s daughter or sister or close friend. What if it were my daughter who had been murdered? It’s an unbearable thought. But I must think about it, if I am to enter into another person’s grief. That’s what thousands of kiwis have done in attending the numerous vigils up and down the country. Our grief should be no less. Take Detective Inspector Scott Beard, who is heading up the case, as an example. When he appeared on camera where the body was found, he didn’t need to say anything. His face said it all. He cared enough to attend one of the many vigils and stood with the crowd. He didn’t just investigate Grace’s death, he felt it. We would do well to take a feather from his cap.
2. Share their outrage
A moral outrage has been committed. The life of another human being has been taken. And yes, this happens daily, and it is easy to dismiss this one death as there are thousands of other innocent deaths taking place in the world. But we cannot. We must not. The death of every single individual matters because human life matters.
Human life especially matters to God. He made it, and he has ownership of it. Therefore, God is also outraged by Grace’s death. Grace was made in his image and likeness. She displayed – as with all human beings, God-like attributes such as love and mercy and goodness and kindness and wisdom and truthfulness. Grace’s life was sacred, as all human life is sacred. This is why God forbids murder (Exodus 20:13; Romans 13:9). So then, the Christian ought to be even more outraged by Grace’s death, not less.
Furthermore, God is not passive or unresponsive in his outrage. He both condemns and demands justice for murder. He has given laws forbidding murder and will not let murder, or any other sin, off the hook (Numbers 14:18). He has instituted government and civil authorities, which do not bear the sword for no reason (Romans 13:3-4), to punish murder and other wrongdoing, thereby preventing acts of personal revenge. The reason we even have a justice system and police and prison cells is because God is the One who has put them there – for his glory and our good.
And here’s something you might want people to consider: where does this sense of moral outrage come from? And what is it based on? If human beings are simply products of an evolutionary process – time plus energy plus matter; if such things as love and hate and hope and despair are caused merely by atoms and molecules banging into each other, why moral outrage? Why get upset about anything? If we came from nowhere and are going nowhere; if there is no accountability in the afterlife, who is to say anything is evil or anything is good?
We see then ample room for Christians to dialogue with others on this matter.
3. Give them hope
This is what I really wanted to get to. Christianity has something to offer to people who are experiencing great pain that no other religion or philosophy or worldview can offer: HOPE. And that hope is found in the cross. The cross is God’s answer to all pain and suffering and death and loss.
People are dying every day. In fact, they are dying every second. They are not supposed to be dying. That is not the way God intended things to be. But Adam, our first father, sinned by rebelling against God and because we are his spiritual offspring, we by nature also sin. The bible says wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), so we must all die. But God, in his kindness and mercy, provided a way out of this. He sent his own Son, in the likeness of humanity to die a torturous death on a cross and atoned for our sin. Then three days later he rose from the dead, overcoming sin’s curse. Now all who trust in him have their sin forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life. Death no longer has a claim on them. They will raise to new life.
This gives us hope. It provides hope for those who are suffering, hope for the cancer patient, and hope for the grieving father or mother.
The cross not only give us hope, it also gives us peace. Because with the cross God demonstrated to the world that he takes sin seriously. It must be punished, and it will be punished – either in two ways: by Jesus on the cross or by the individual sinner when he or she faces God after death. Either way, they are paid. No sin – no matter how big or small, is overlooked. Every single one is accounted for.
That grants peace to the one who is suffering unjustly. They can leave it all in the hands of a righteous and holy God, who will do what is right (Genesis 18:25). That means Grace’s parents, should they come to understand and believe this, can eventually find peace. It also means Grace’s murderer, should he repent of his wicked crime and put his trust in Christ, can find peace. Everyone finds peace at the cross – the murderer, the sufferers and the victim alike.
That’s what makes the cross so powerful. Nothing else matches it in its ability to completely transform the human heart and bring about forgiveness and reconciliation.
People might not like the answer that Christianity gives to the “why” of suffering and death. But it’s sure better than the one they don’t have.