Beautiful and Terrible-Do Not Be afraid!

Early Sunday morning, as I walked our dogs, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the trees along Forest Circle and Sycamore Drive. It was as if fall had stepped forward to display its most beautiful hues of red, orange, and gold. Fall is my favorite time of the year. It awakens something deep down in my soul—a dream or hope that the ordinariness of everyday life is creating a beauty and significance that one day will become apparent to those of us who live those very ordinary days. Fall reminds me why Jesus spoke so often about how the goodness, mercy, and steadfast love of God could be seen in the natural world around us if we had eyes to see. Fall makes me feel at home in the world.

Yet, one never knows what a day will bring as it unfolds. Before the inspiration of a service of worship remembering the saints had faded, I was struck down by the news of a mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as that congregation worshipped God together. The first reports indicated twelve had died with dozens wounded. As Sunday evening approached, we learned twenty-six people from the ages of eighteen months to seventy-seven years had died with dozens more wounded. A church, a town, a state, and a nation plunged into anguish and grief. I don’t think we can even begin to imagine what those people in Sutherland Springs are going through. Their response to this senseless act of unbelievable violence and death is as unique as each person who composes that community. It is wise to honor their responses without getting lost in our own reactions.

These two contrasting events I experienced on Sunday—one of light and hope, the other of darkness and despair—reminded me of some words penned by Frederick Buechner, I don’t recall the original context of these words, and I have not bothered to locate it. The words reminded me of a single truth and a koan of wisdom we need to be mindful of as we face the best of times and the worst of times that arrive on any given day without warning. Buechner wrote: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Yes, there are beautiful things and terrible things to be experienced in our world from sunrises to sunsets, the birth of babies to a diagnosis of cancer, from breakthroughs in medicine to opioid addiction, from exceptional human achievement to the destructive power of modern warfare. This is a truth we cannot escape.

Fear is a real temptation in response to what happened in Sutherland Springs. Sometimes fear seems to be our default. Fear inspires all kinds of responses, often very irrational responses. When Buechner writes—“Don’t be afraid,” he is echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples upon his first appearance to them on Easter morning. They had every right to be afraid. They assumed that the authorities would hunt them down and do to them exactly what they had done to their Lord. Yet, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” These are great words of wisdom to hold onto when the world seems to be flying out of control and seems to have gone mad. This wisdom will keep us from getting lost in destructive thoughts and reactions.

Later on Sunday afternoon, I joined my voice with others in reading this rendering of Psalm 23-

I am child of God.
I have everything I need.
This beautiful earth feeds my body.
You feed my soul.
You guide me in the ways of Life,
for You are Life.
And though I will walk
through dark places,
and eventually to death,
I will never be afraid.

For you are with me always,
In You I can find comfort.
With Your help, I can face whatever comes.
My joy overflows.
Your goodness and blessing will be with me.
Every day of my life-and forever.

On a day filled with life and death, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, this rendering of a too familiar psalm felt like a divine gift of consolation. The words were no longer ancient words, but words strangely fitting for a day like Sunday. Let’s not be afraid—we are God’s children and nothing can separate us from his love. Peace.


Jamie Broome

Jamie Broome began serving Immanuel in 1993. He previously served First Baptist Church in Midway, Kentucky for ten years. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson Newman University, where he met his wife, Rita, and his Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he also did a Th.M. and doctoral work in church history. He is a native of South Carolina, and the Broomes have two sons, Chip and Rusty.