I have the chance to speak to the students at Veritas Christian Academy at their chapel service this week. Here’s what I plan to share and how I’m trying to process the Las Vegas shooting in my own spirit.
The worst mass shooting in US History. You can’t even wrap your mind around it. As expected there is no shortage of anger, sorrow, confusion and online venting. There has also been several public responses by well-known figures – one well known televangelist even said that this was God’s punishment for athletes not showing proper respect for the flag.
I’d like to humbly suggest a few things to keep in mind as we process horrific, seemingly random, tragic events such as these.
First, humans cannot speak for God, apart from His Word. God has given us his Word, the Bible, as his final and authoritative revelation about himself and how we are to relate to him. [2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:20-21] Russell Moore was right to quickly point out John 9:1-3a where the disciples were positive that a man born blind had sinned [or his parents sinned] in order to deserve his disability. Jesus tells them point blank “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents…” If anyone starts any statement with “God says…” or “God told me…” there’d better be a Scripture verse immediately following. On a more practical level, we can’t speak for God because we aren’t God and we aren’t able to understand God. His ways are above ours and his wisdom is unsearchable. [Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33] We try to give God human qualities to understand him better, but the reality is that he is not like us, he is completely “other” and like no one else. [Psalm 50:21]
Second, ultimately God never stops working for his glory. This is the second part of the text in John 9:3b. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him…” This is NOT a cheesy empty platitude that says there is always a silver lining, and that good will somehow come out of any tragedy. Rather, it is an understanding of God’s sovereign control over all things based on a hard fought trust in the character of God — even when we can’t understand or remotely process what is happening and why. Even though it might feel like God has abandoned us, or we are being punished, Scripture assures us that he has not and he is still at work in all things. [Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 13:5] There is never a place or situation he cannot work in to transform and heal.
Third, people don’t need theological lectures in tragedy, they need comfort that flows from good theology. What can do for those who are walking thru horrific tragedy? Weep with those who weep. [Romans 12:15] There is enormous pressure to make sense of a situation. It’s part of how God created the wonder of human beings. We are questioners. We are fixers. Especially us men. We want to just make sense of something and when emotions and pain are in the mix we want to say anything to make it all better and the reality is that we can’t. There is nothing you can say to someone to fix the pain of losing a loved one in a mass shooting – resist the urge for simple, empty platitudes, or theological lectures. I commented to my wife after the news had broken of this terrible event that “there will be a lot of people who will never be the same again.” These things will forever change people. Forget trying to fix things, just flat out be there for someone. Be present with them. BUT…all of this must be grounded in the hard reality of the sovereignty of God. No matter how it seems, the truth is that God is still in control and we need to trust him, despite what we see going on around us. Evil will not have the last word and will not get away with anything. God will enable us to get through this. Pray for them and with them for God to strengthen them, heal them, help them. Pray for the churches in the area to be refuges for the broken, read them the many Psalms that refer to our God as our strong tower, refuge, rock, strength. [Psalm 18; 61; 91; 144…]
Fourth, the ultimate comfort comes from the gospel. There is one and only one reason why that gunman carefully planned to kill a lot of people and then did it: sin. There is one and only one answer to sin: the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was sin and evil lodged deep within his heart and he acted on it. Evil will be punished by a just and terrifying God. But, we have to recognize that this isn’t the way that God created the world – he created the world perfect and good and he created us to serve him as our gracious King. We rejected him. We placed ourselves in the position of king of our lives. In so doing, we fractured our relationship with God, incurred God’s wrath, and unleashed sin into the world. It has grown into a full blown monster and is consuming this world. [Galatians 5:15] However, God has provided the answer for sin. He condescended and came to earth in the form of a human while still being God to both represent man and yet be perfect and sinless to be the perfect once for all sacrifice to reconcile us to God. The problem man created, God fixed. We now live in that period where Jesus has already finished the work completely by living the perfect life, dying on the cross, and being raised from the dead, and now we await his return where he will finally judge sin, punish evil, and banish it forever. Those who have trusted him by faith will be reunited with him to enjoy him forever without cancer, chronic illness, racial injustice, or mass shootings. As we see these tragedies and walk through them, we are reminded of the reality of sin and the future hope.
This is the ultimate comfort that this world cannot provide – God has done something. God has provided the answer for sin. Turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation of our souls, and hope for eternity. This world is still broken and evil, though we have already seen many acts of goodness and kindness in the wake of this tragedy already, there will be more evil, more brokenness and our hope is not from this world.
God’s word reminds us of the comfort – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” [2 Corinthians 1:3-4]