Instead, we tweeted, we compulsively reloaded the live feed on The New York Times, we opened multiple browser windows, we turned on NPR. (At least that is what I did for a while that grim afternoon, in spite of myself.) All this accomplished, for the great majority of us, was to substitute information for contemplation, the illusion of engagement for prayer. I did not really need to know more about what happened behind those 12 awful words in order to pray. I needed to contemplate just those words, just those most brutal facts.
The quest for more talk, more images, more footage (none of which would ever satisfy our lust for understanding, no matter how graphic police and producers allowed them to become) is rarely about the quest to more deeply contemplate the brokenness of the world—it is the quest to not contemplate it. Because if we were simply to contemplate those 12 words, we would be brought all too soon to the terrifying precipice of our own inadequacy, our own vulnerability and dependence, and even (so the saints testify) our own culpability, our nearness in spirit to even the most deranged and destructive.
Mind you, silence is not the only kind of presence Christians have to offer a world gone wrong and gone mad. We also bear witness to the presence of the Word made flesh, the Word who entered into this story, who did not send a message but became a baby. And that Word does indeed prompt our words—words not of endless rehearsal of "details" or promises we cannot keep, but words of truth, hope, and life. This is the only way I know how to participate in our mediated, self-medicated world of too much information and too little contemplation: to keep silent until we have something true to say.
Terrible things happen every day. One day, one will probably happen to you, if it has not already happened. Surely it is our suppressed awareness that tragedy is coming our way, too, our unwillingness to be silent and contemplate our own need for mercy, that turns compassion into compulsion, turns our God-breathed impulse to stop for the wounded traveler into the gawking slowdown on the other side of the highway.
So for those of us who are spared their direct blows, this terrible thing, and the next terrible thing to come, are opportunities to learn what it will be almost too late to learn when death is at our own door. How to be silent, how to be truly present, and then how to speak. How to hear what the true mediators always say when they bring real news to a broken world: "Be not afraid."
Andy Crouch is executive editor of Christianity Today.