For the second time in just 35 days, our hearts are filled with a mix of grief, anger, and fear, because of an unprecedented mass shooting in our nation.
On October 1st, a gunman smashed out the windows of his 32nd floor hotel room at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and opened fire on a country music festival below. 58 people were killed and an additional 546 were injured, making this the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
On November 5th, another gunman walked into the First Baptist Church of rural Sutherland Springs, Texas and shot up the sanctuary during a Sunday morning worship service. 26 people were killed, making this the deadliest shooting in a house of worship in U.S. history.
My first reaction to the breaking news yesterday was the opening words of Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord?” Seriously, how long are you going to let this sort of violence continue to happen? How long are you going to permit us to hate and destroy one another? How long before you providentially restrain one of these monsters who’s hell-bent on massacre before he murders a bunch of innocent people? How long until you start filling in the blanks to address our unanswered questions? How long before you return to judge such evil and injustice and to make all things new? How long . . . ?
In the 24 hours since these initial thoughts, I’ve had a few more that I hope will be helpful to others:
- Let’s let grieving and prayer be our first responses, not the things that we eventually get around to.
It’s stunning – and sickening, really – how quickly and instinctively we twist every tragedy into an opportunity to “score points” for our political and social agendas. It’s grotesque how we literally hope the latest shooter fits a certain profile so that we can assign 100% of the blame to that other party/race/religion/ideology that we can’t stand. It’s appalling how quickly we jump to conclusions and state as facts things we can’t possibly know.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If the blood of victims isn’t dry yet, just lament. Cry – and cry out to God – because human beings are dead and their families and friends are suddenly dealing with unspeakable heartache. Those people at a theater, a concert, a department store, a house of worship, and airport – those people in the bike lane and on the bridges and sidewalks and trains – were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents, neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Their loved ones can’t even breathe right now. So today’s not the day to win an argument. Nobody won anything today; we’ve all lost something precious and irreplaceable.
The human thing to do is to weep with those who weep. And the humble thing to do is to ask God for His justice and mercy to come in due time.
- Let’s learn to listen to – and empathize with – one another.
We’re experts at talking past one another. We ascribe the best possible motives and meanings to ourselves and the worst possible to others who disagree with or offend us. So we’ve already written them off before they even speak. We’re not listening because we’re not even curious. We know we’re right – and therefore, they must be not only wrong, but horrible. They’re the problem.
If that’s not bad enough, we as a society are proficient at escalating even the most minor offenses to Code Red in about 3 seconds. We are so quick to take offense . . . and so slow to forgive. We are not patient or forbearing. And, because we don’t believe in a God of ultimate justice, we feel like we need to take matters into our own hands and settle our own scores. Words like mercy, kindness, grace, and compassion are almost wholly absent from our public (and private) discourse.
We need to stop hiding behind anonymous internet personas, stop isolating ourselves in ideological echo chambers, and stop taking nuclear-level personal offense to, well, everything. Let’s show the love of Christ by engaging with our neighbors – all of them – in order to discover and meet their needs. Let’s be humble, curious, and teachable. Let’s admit that many of those people we’ve marginalized (or demonized) really just want what we want at the end of the day: they want to feel safe, they want a fair opportunity, and above all they just want to be loved and accepted.
- Let’s join Christ in the inside-out transformation of hearts that only the Gospel provides.
In a fallen world it is reasonable and responsible for governing authorities to pass sensible legislation, to mobilize for the protection of the innocent, and to enforce serious consequences upon violent offenders. But laws and law enforcement are only a deterrent; they do not – indeed, they cannot – transform the heart. In other words, we can (and should) compel hateful monsters to restrict some of their hateful behaviors, but we cannot force them to love.
But what if we could discover a way to change people’s hearts so that they were genuinely loving, pure, and gracious? What if we didn’t have to fear bad guys with weapons because God had taken all the bad guys and made them good?
This is where the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, comes in.
We already know the bad news: though we were made to live from Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus, we all went astray; we all did our own thing. We made gods out of other created things, including ourselves, and our hearts became dark. Conflict with God and with each other became the norm. Eventually this lifestyle leads to death and judgment for all of us. And that should be the end of that. Except that it’s not.
You see, God rattles our culture of reciprocity with this new thing called grace. When we ran from Him, He pursued us. When we hated Him, He loved us without conditions or limits. When we racked up exorbitant debts, He paid them. When we enslaved ourselves to sin, He sent His Son Jesus to set us free.
The cost of all this generosity is the death of Jesus on the Cross. But the cost to us is nothing. It’s free. We simply believe in Jesus. That’s grace. This is the Good News of our faith, the Gospel: we are forgiven, cleansed, loved, and accepted by God because of Jesus!
If you’ve ever wondered why laws don’t ever work as well as we’d hope, it’s because they can only try to change us from the outside-in. But grace changes us from the inside-out. See, Jesus doesn’t give you a new law to obey, he gives you a new spiritual heart and he gives you his Spirit to transform your affections, your thoughts, your emotions, everything. Your life bears good fruit because he’s made you good, not because he’s told you to be good. It’s the difference between scotch-taping good apples to a rotten tree and having a healthy tree that automatically bears good apples.
Society will never change until people change. And people will never change until Jesus, by grace alone through faith alone, changes them. If you want to live in a safer, kinder, more loving world, there’s ultimately only one way to accomplish that: give people the hope of new life in Christ!
So today, we grieve and we pray. Tomorrow, we have a mission of love to do in Jesus’ name. Let’s go.