Looking for God in Ottawa Tragedy

By Craig Macartney

National War Memorial in Ottawa

Christmas is a time of reflection. As Christians, we reflect on the coming of Christ as light in a dark world. Many people also use the time to reflect on events of the past year. Christmas is an incredible time of hope, but reflections this year will be tainted with the still-fresh memories of terror attacks in Quebec and Ottawa.

On October 22 Michael Zehaf-Bibeau drove to the National War Memorial and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Zehaf-Bibeau then forced his way into the Centre Block of Parliament before being killed in a firefight.

The attack came two days after another home-grown, radicalized Islamist had used a car to run down two Canadian soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and injuring the other.

Beneath the surface of such tragic events, I believe another story is visible for those who are willing to see: the story of God’s love and protection.

Zehaf-Bibeau’s first shot missed. The next two shots hit Cirillo. Before heading to Parliament, Zehaf-Bibeau fired a fourth shot, aimed at the other soldier standing guard. He missed again.

The weapon used, identified as a Winchester 30-30, was legendary in its day: it’s the John Wayne “gun that took the West.” By today’s standards, it’s slow to reload, relatively inaccurate and, most importantly, it’s not semi-automatic.

While targeting the National War Memorial and Canadian Parliament maximized the crime’s publicity, the spots were ill-chosen to inflict significant casualties. Few people linger near the National War Memorial, and Parliament is among the most securely guarded locations in the country.

Early reports stated that the shooter (or possibly an accomplice) had also attacked the Rideau Centre, a large and busy shopping centre only 200 metres away. Had Rideau been targeted, the attacker could potentially have killed dozens before first responders could intervene. This vulnerable target was overlooked.

Witnesses say between 30 and 50 shots were fired in the Hall of Honour by parliamentary security, some penetrating the wooden doors where MPs were in caucus. Yet in the hail of bullets, Zehaf-Bibeau alone was hit.

One of the unsung heroes of the day is Constable Samearn Son. Standing just inside the doors of Parliament, he immediately saw Zehaf-Bibeau’s rifle. Although he was unarmed, according to a CBC report, he lunged forward yelling, “Gun! Gun! Gun!” and pulled the rifle barrel towards the floor.

As the two struggled, Son was shot in the foot. He was released from hospital the same night and is expected to make a full recovery. His warning cry alerted armed guards to the danger, enabling them to react in time to prevent further tragedy.

Looking back on difficult or painful situations can be amazingly healing as you see God’s divine intervention and protection – as I believe you can in these recent, terrifying events.

Yet when we look honestly at the world, it also raises painful questions.

What about Cirillo? Where was God as he lay dying?

It’s hard to say God saved one person and let another die. It paints you into a difficult corner. Does God not care? Was He incapable of saving? If He was in control, does that not make Him complicit to the crime?

The questions are plentiful. Answers are often given flippantly and far too soon. What comfort are lectures on free will and a world subjected to sin when addressed to a fatherless child or parents left to bury their son?

There are no easy answers to these questions. We won’t find God’s answers neatly wrapped in a bow under our Christmas tree. But we can find an answer in the form of a baby born into poverty, sleeping in a feed-trough, for lack of a bed. God’s answer to the pain and sin of our world wasn’t a military champion overthrowing the Roman Empire. It was love, hanging naked on a tree, saying, “Father forgive them….”

It’s always painful to witness injustice, but Jesus calls us to mimic Him in being a light to the pain and suffering around us: to be Christians, little christs.

For those of us who want to walk with God, we are called to face these questions. We bring our uncertainty to Him, trusting that our God is a loving God: always kind, always faithful, in the midst of the suffering around us. Some days our faith means declaring the year of the Lord’s favour. Other days it means to weep with those who weep. October 22 was a day of weeping.

Yet, as we bring these honest questions to God, we can be comforted, knowing God was also there with Cirillo.

According to numerous media reports, Ottawa lawyer Barbara Winters stopped at the memorial to take pictures of the soldiers on her way to work. As she walked away she heard four gunshots. She immediately remembered the attack two days earlier. Instead of running for cover, Winters ran back to the memorial where Cirillo lay.

Cirillo’s fellow soldiers stood by him, encouraging him as several witnesses held his wounds, trying to stop the bleeding. Amazingly, everyone on the scene, including Winters, had First Aid or medical training, but the ambulances still didn’t arrive in time. Several minutes later, Cirillo died as Winters prayed the Lord’s Prayer over him and told him repeatedly he was loved.

I’m still asking God a number of questions. But as I do, one question rekindles the flames of hope. What if those people kept him alive just long enough to hear that he was loved by a God who came to earth to wipe away every tear and give us life anew?

Craig Macartney is a freelance writer and blogger. Watch for the Jan/Feb issue of Faith Today for an investigation into the role of lament in our lives and in the Church. Our current subscription special is two for the price of one until Dec.31.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *