“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
A man entered a church in Texas over the weekend and killed two people only to be shot and killed himself by an armed congregant. What is the lesson? Of course all the 2nd amendment supporters have come out of the woodwork with headlines like "Good Guy With A Gun Shoots Alleged Texas Church Shooter." I can certainly sympathize with the sentiment expressed in the headline. No one wants to see churches, schools, and movie theaters shot up by anyone. No one wants additional deaths and stopping the shooter by whatever means necessary is the right response in that moment, but what about now? How should we respond now?
The headline hurts my soul. The shooting was recorded as the service itself was being live streamed or recorded. I took the time to go and watch the video. Watching a video like that is horrifying as you see people get shot and immediately fall to the ground. One might be tempted to praise the heroism of the security who took down the shooter in a high pressure situation from about 15 yards (my guess) with a single shot. That may be appropriate, but we should think deeper about this. Church shootings are not new and as I sit and write this I don't know what this man's motive was. We can argue about whether guns should be available (all hand guns in this case) to the general public, whether conceal carry is a good idea, or the need for universal background checks. All that is fine as far as it goes, but not matter what policies we think are right, we must come to another conclusion. There is real evil in this world and no matter what policies we employ it isn't going away!
What motivates someone to go into a church and start shooting up the place? it could be so many things! Mental illness always seems to be somewhere in the mix. It could be political, ideological, or even relational. Whatever it is, it's evil. We don't like to talk about evil because it is a strong word and we live in a relativistic world. There is no real evil, just personal preference...or is there. Politicians will spin this to promote whatever gun policies they want to see passed, but even that misses the point. Real evil exists and everybody intuitively recognizes it. Real evil cannot be legislated out of existence, it exists in the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). So what do we do?
Pray for God's grace. The world likes to mock those who pray during times of tragedy. They say, "what good are your prayers? Do something!" Often this is said to promote some kind of legislation they believe will rid the world of this darkness, but there is only one light of the world and his name is Jesus! It is to him we must turn. The heart of humanity is fallen and evil apart from the grace of God. Pray for God's grace, not the kind of grace that leads to salvation, but what theologians call prevenient grace. The kind that is given to all of humanity because without it there would be no good at all in this world. Violence is not contingent on the ability of any person to acquire guns.
Mourn with those who mourn. Tragedy is real and it isn't going away. We look forward to a new year and we often do so with great hopes. We should, but we ought also to know that it will come with great tragedy. When it does, mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Jesus reminds us that those who mourn will find comfort and it is a part of how people are good, how the flourish as humans (Matthew 5:4).
Don't ask why, pray for redemption. Answering the why question is easy and I am always baffled that people don't know the answer. Perhaps the answer seems too simple when it is boiled down to its root cause. People want to think there is an answer that can be addressed with policies, politicians, and procedures; when it turns out those things wont fix the problem I suppose people have a hard time accepting the answer. The answer is the sin nature and the reality of evil in the human heart. Now that you have the answer, pray for redemption of the human heart. Pray that God would turn hearts of stone to living hearts (Ezekiel 36:26).
Share the gospel of Jesus. Redemption comes only through Jesus. It isn't enough to pray for redemption if we are not willing to share the gospel and communicate the means of redemption to a world in desperate need of hope for that kind of redemption. It is the responsibility of the church to speak of the hope of the gospel at all times, but it offers the most contrast to the darkness of the world at the greatest times of darkness.
We can certainly do more than these things, but we ought not to do less. Evil, tragedy, and violence will continue to be part of this world until the prayer, "...your kingdom come your will be done" is brought to fruition in all its fullness when Jesus returns and the new heavens and the new earth are brought into existence.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.