Saturday night I returned from an out-of-state ministry trip by flying into the Pittsburgh airport. Shortly before I got on the plane in Atlanta, having been away from the news for a few days, I learned of the horrific shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This act has left eleven dead and at least six wounded, including four police officers. So even as I anticipated coming home to be with my own loved ones, my heart was grieved and broken over those whose homes have been so senselessly altered forever.
Each day, I drive home from work past the Tree of Life Synagogue, located just a mile and a half from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (RPTS). Many Jewish families live in the Squirrel Hill area where the synagogue is located, making them neighbors to our community of students, staff, and faculty. I have often smiled as I drive by, as I see young children escorted by their parents on the way home from school or headed to the synagogue. I can only imagine the terror such families felt as the gunman opened fire on people gathered for various celebrations.
Clearly, the gunman expressed anti-Semitic language during the attack as well as on social media before it. As those who have peaceably dwelt near our Jewish neighbors, we in the RPTS community abhor the hateful, murderous prejudice of the accused. Rather, we view ourselves as grateful heirs from the Jewish people of the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, our RPTS library recently put on exhibit, in a newly handcrafted, wooden display case, an eighteenth century copy of the Hebrew Torah that has been gifted to us.
At RPTS, we are grateful to be a part of the Pittsburgh community. However, in recent years we have been greatly grieved over the words and acts of racial prejudice in our city that we have witnessed, be it against our Jewish neighbors, African American friends, visiting Asian students, and other minorities. As those who desire the peace of God’s kingdom to spread to all peoples, we decry any expression of prejudice against a person from another ethnicity. We further commit ourselves to work against this injustice and hatred by being those who seek to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
The Hebrew Bible remind us repeatedly that God hears the cries of His people when they call out to him in their suffering. As the psalmist says,
“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Ps. 18:6).
To that end, on Tuesday afternoon, October 30, at 1:00 p.m. in the chapel at RPTS, we will have a special prayer service to ask God to bring healing first and foremost to those most affected by the Tree of Life tragedy, as well as pleading to God to bring peace to our city.
As we pray, we will remember that the prophets promised even more than that God hears our cries of suffering. The God who made this world promised to enter it and bear our suffering. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:4-5). We will be praying that our neighbors cry out to the only Lord who can carry their sorrows and heal their wounds with His very own.
Barry York, Seminary President