In Blacksburg, Finding Answers to Unanswerable Questions

On Sunday, many in the community of Blacksburg, Va., will attend religious services for the first time since the shootings at Virginia Tech. But what words of comfort can religious leaders offer at a time like this? Liane Hansen speaks with Jeremy Rasor, the student and youth minister at the Blacksburg Baptist Church.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Pastor Jeremy Rasor had to look for answers to many unanswerable questions about what happened at Virginia Tech this past week. Rasor is the minister to youth and youth families at Blacksburg Baptist Church. We reached him by phone at his office at the church in Blacksburg. Thanks so much for your time. I know how valuable it is.

Pastor JEREMY RASOR (Student and Youth Minister, Blacksburg Baptist Church): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: Pastor Rasor, you had to conduct a funeral on Saturday. What did you say?

Pastor RASOR: You know, what really - the family wanted it to be a time of celebration. They wanted it to be a time of rally rejoicing this young person's life. I mean, you know, everybody here is still in a place of shock, in a place of disbelief. We're really just now getting into the stage of turning that into grief. And so, you know, the big thing was celebrating this young lady's life and celebrating that we were all blessed to know her.

HANSEN: What was her name?

Pastor RASOR: Her name was Austin Cloyd.

HANSEN: How have you been dealing with not only the students but the families of the students who have lost loved ones this past week? I mean, how do you talk to them?

Pastor RASOR: You know, the only thing that we can really do right now is just offer them a place where they can find somebody that will put their arms around them. You know, there's not a whole lot that we can offer as far as, you know, taking away the grief. But we can give them hope. And we can give them - I hope that we can give them hope, is what I should say, we can offer them hope. You know, God is here and God is with us, and God is comforting us, and God is crying right along with us. And his heart is broken right along with ours.

HANSEN: Have you had a lot of students coming by?

Pastor RASOR: Truthfully, no, not yet. And part of that is because a lot of them are home. Virginia Tech has given them the option of whether or not to come back. You know, I really expect what's going to happen is people are going to be home for the summer and be able to, kind of, put things aside, you know, talk about it a little bit. But when they get here, they're going to have to face it all over again. They're going to have to walk down the Drill Field. They're going to have to see their classmates, and I think it's going to be real tough in about two months.

HANSEN: What question are you hearing most from your congregation?

Pastor RASOR: You know, I think the question that - the question that I hear the most is why, you know - how can God let this happen, those kind of things, which is to be expected. My answer to that has been, since Monday, since it all began, that God wasn't in this act. God is with us now, that this was not God's will. This was not God's divine plan. This was one man's choice, you know. We have a choice whether to follow God with our lives or to lead our own lives, and this man chose the latter.

God doesn't bring hurricanes to destroy cities, or tsunamis to wipe out countries or a man to kill 32 people. Truthfully, I would challenge anybody no matter how famous or prominent they might be that says otherwise, that this was brought on by God somehow. So that's our biggest question.

HANSEN: You've had to talk to families, students, all week, conduct memorial services. You have a Sunday service. What are you going to say?

Pastor RASOR: We're going to say the same things right now, because that's where we are. We're going to say that this was not God's will, that this was one man's will, this was one man's evil because that's where people need to be reassured right now. And then we're going to say that God is here with us, that there is hope and that our hope is in him, you know. Our God is a peace-loving, care-giving, just joy-bringing God, and that our hope is in him.

HANSEN: Pastor Rasor, have you had anyone come to you whose faith has been challenged by this?

Pastor RASOR: Sure. Well, actually, we had somebody saying that they were going to play golf on Sunday because God took off Monday. It's going to challenge people's faith. And that's only natural. And, you know, what I say to that is God handle it. It's okay to get angry or to get upset, or to get disappointed even with what you think is going on with God. As long as you work through it, as long as you don't get stuck in that place and when do get stuck in that place, you talk to somebody about it, and you work through it, because God is here. And if we weren't allowed to doubt, if we weren't allowed to question, if we weren't allowed to have our faith shaken, then I don't know how real it would be.

HANSEN: Jeremy Rasor is the minister to youth and youth families at the Blacksburg Baptist Church. We reached him by phone from his office at the church. Thank you so much.

Pastor RASOR: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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