It feels like an act of war.
Doesn’t it? Under what other human scenario do we experience being killed in large groups by a stranger? While we sang songs of joy at eternal life, a shooter took the lives of innocent people, even tiny children, in a church.
But, what is so disorienting is that in our nation, we treat it like an act of nature.
Like a terrible tornado that came and took lives, for which we grieve, from which we push on and rebuild.
But something in us knows this is not true. It is not inevitable that someone with a high-powered gun will kill us while we are together and paying attention to something else.
We know this, because it doesn’t happen anywhere else with the frequency it happens here.
No, this has something to do with us.
Like many things, I believe we are failing to face up to the truth – and we can’t cure what we won’t acknowledge.
First of all, both of those statements above are true. It is an act of nature. And an act of war.
To kill others out of your own personal pain is perhaps the ultimate act of the “sin nature,” the “flesh,” which cries,“ I must survive no matter what.” It’s biological in its origins, but what each of us considers a threat is in our minds. We have little to go on to know what it is that motivates (or deludes) these individuals.
But, these are also acts of warfare – it’s just that we have to be spiritually discerning to remember it.
Even if a shooter thinks they are at war with us, the real hostilities are on a spiritual level. Jesus knew it: he survived the temptations of Satan to act out of self-interest, inflicted on him when he was at his human weakest. These temptations, though, were not for Jesus’ benefit.
Satan, evil, darkness – wants to destroy us and defy God. And whenever we can be provoked to destroy each other, we make a lie out of the image of God in which we were made – his goal.
Satan knows our flesh better than we do, and prods us in the tenderest places to think and will and do the kinds of things that deny the image of God in us, that deny Christ in us, if we fall into it. Or if we don’t know any better.
Satan has a field day with our culture of “rugged individualism,” our assumed Christianity that is only a veneer, our media world that adores violence, and our stinginess toward treating mental illness…combined with our near reverence of guns.
There are as many guns loose in our nation as there are men, women and children. Are many gun owners responsible? Sure. Are many of the guns people own specifically made for killing people? Yes. Yes. Think about that.
Because if we will not face the facts of our situation, we are left with pretending that “these things just happen.”
And worst of all, we are beginning to believe that the only solution to these mass shootings, is for all of us to arm up and regard every other person we meet as someone we potentially may have to shoot. I can’t think of a worse way to build a community than that!
I can’t think of a better way to serve the Darkness than that.
But Jesus told us it would be this way. And we have been equipped to stand, and to do what he sent us to do. We have “God’s armor,” (Eph 6). This battle belongs to the Lord. We don’t fight so much as stand, and as we stand we pray.
Thoughts and prayers aren’t the end, but they are surely the beginning.
Then we love. Jesus meant it, when he told us to love those who are out to get us. We have nothing to fear; we are eternal. And even if we are afraid, we have the Spirit to empower us. Despite what people say, even this shooter was not ‘an animal.’ Even he was beloved of God. What if we are the ones who are called to name the evil and rebuke it? This is the real war. When Jesus sent us, he sent us into this.
Then we act for justice. This government is us. We must stop pretending. Guns don’t make people good. Guns don’t make people strong. Some guns are made, to make people dead. We can limit their presence among us. Guns are tools – but like money, we can start serving them instead of them serving us. Speak up for the innocents who die EVERY DAY from gun violence, and gun accidents.
And we had better face up to the enormous mental health needs we ignore. Broken and dangerous people are often left in the hands of relatives who cannot help them nor control them, and we say there’s nothing we can do until “something happens.” It doesn’t just happen. We just didn’t help. We can do better.
One thing all this is not: it is not “an act of God.” This is NOT God’s will. It is our collective will, which has not stood up for what is true and real. We can’t ignore it any more.