There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
The Gospel of Luke 13.1-15
Since September our nation, including Puerto Rico, has weathered three hurricanes (Harvey, Irene, and Maria) each wreaking havoc with high winds, floods, and mud slides. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, without electricity, food, medicine, and water. Relief efforts are ongoing and it will likely be months, perhaps years before there is full recovery.
We have barely begun to respond to the devastation caused by these natural disasters, only to be jolted by the news coming out of Las Vegas. On Sunday, October 1, Stephen Paddock aimed a rifle from the 32nd floor of his hotel room and fired at a crowd of 22,000 people as they attended an outdoor music concert. In a barrage lasting nine minutes Paddock killed 58 people. An additional 500 and more were wounded and/or injured. Stephen Paddock is now among the dead. Sadly, his death cannot erase the five-hundred and forty seconds of cruel, calculated, and cold-hearted evil he inflicted. There is an evil worse than natural catastrophe. There is an evil so real, so ugly, and so heartless we are left breathless in its aftermath.
Adjectives prove insufficient to describe such evil. Simply put: evil is real. Evil is ugly. Evil is vile and despicable. There are evil people in this world: Stephen Paddock is one of them. We do not know his heart. We can only judge his actions. And his actions merit this judgment: evil. Evil people are not evil because of their environment, their social status, education, or income. Evil has no gender bias. Evil is not attached to race, ethnicity, or nationality. Evil is an equal-opportunity employer. Evil exists because, as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “the (human) heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Evil exists because worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not.
As devastating and life-wrecking as can be a hurricane, flood, or earthquake, we tend not to be affected by such things on a visceral level. The bowels of our mercy tend not to be stirred by a Category 5 hurricane. A hurricane does not post to a Facebook page. A flood does not have an Instagram account. An earthquake espouses no ideology on Twitter, and no vengeance drives its destructive power. Natural disasters possess no native intelligence. Their paths do not bear the mark of premeditation. Their destruction is done without malice. They simply happen and we must deal with the flotsam and jetsam left by their mayhem.
What happened in Las Vegas is not the result of a natural disaster. Nor was it a natural disaster that took the lives of those in Orlando. No earthquake caused the shooting deaths in San Bernandino. No tornado killed 20 school children in Connecticut. No gale force winds took the lives of students at Virginia Tech. The list of evil acts is as long as recorded human history: Oklahoma City, the Unabomber, 9/11. Sadly, the list of evil acts will likely grow longer not because laws are insufficient to prevent it, but simply because “the (human) heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Laws, even God’s Law cannot change the human heart. Only the Spirit of God can do that.
So then, what to do? Give up? Never! The truth is there is no easy way through this. Evil hurts and the pain and grief it metes out is real. If the first step toward healing requires acknowledging reality, then perhaps the first step toward healing is to acknowledge the reality of evil and the existence of evil people. The next step is to lament the pain evil causes. Lamentation is a normal response to grievous pain caused by grievous evil. Rather than a sign of weakness, lamentation is an indication of our humanity.
To lament is to grieve. And grief in the wake of evil is not only normal, but necessary. To lament is to mourn. It is to weep. As Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, so let us weep with those so tragically and personally damaged by the evil act of an evil man. To lament is to let the pain pour forth. In time, the agony of unspeakable tragedy will exhaust itself in attempting to siphon dry the wellspring of our hope. It will fail because we have access to an inexhaustible wellspring of living water. We know the One who is Hope incarnate. Let us pray for those who weep. Pray they will find Him who is the Living Water.
In Luke 13.1-5, Jesus reminds us that when evil happens rather than explain why or attempt to defend God, we would be wise to consider how short life is compared to eternity. Life is fragile. If life is fragile then we are fragile. If we are fragile then death is real. And if death is real, then our struggle is not with “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6.12). And if our struggle is “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” then “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds,” (2 Corinthians 10.4).
Those who do not believe the Gospel scoff at any offer of condolence which includes the thoughts and prayers of Christ-minded people. How would they prefer we comfort those who mourn? Shall we offer the victims’ families a petition to sign? How shall we help the wounded recover? Will the promise of stricter legislation heal their physical and emotional wounds? Would it not be more helpful simply to weep with those who weep? Would it not be more comforting simply to sit with them in silence and pray?
Fools mock at the comfort promised by the Gospel. Let them mock. Let them scorn those who offer thoughts and prayers. Scorn will not bring back the dead. Sarcasm will not stop the spread of evil. Mockery never stopped a bullet. Mockery never defused a bomb. Derision never deterred a killer. Jesus commanded us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” (Luke 6.28). Bless those who scorn our prayers for the victims and families. Pray for them. They do not know what they do. Pray for the families of the deceased. Pray for the wounded. Pray for the helpers. Pray! Pray! Pray! And as God opens doors to offer tangible help take full advantage of such opportunities.
A mentor once told me, “Faith is what’s left after pain has erased all the platitudes.” Platitudes will not help us work through this, or any other tragedy. Yes. “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8.28). Yes. What others intend for evil God can use to accomplish good (cf., Genesis 50.20). However, neither of these truths are painless in the application or in the experience of those whom God has shepherded through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The apostle Paul, who joyfully proclaimed “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose,” suffered countless beatings, was thrice shipwrecked and beaten with rods, stoned, robbed, endured privation, and more. And before Joseph told his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” he was betrayed by them, thrown into a well. They later sold him into slavery, eventually landing him in Egypt where he was wrongly accused of sexual assault, wrongfully imprisoned, spending years in jail. God does bring good out of tragedy, but that does not mean we make light of the tragedy from which the good eventually springs forth.
Amid the chaotic tragedy of Sunday’s shooting in Las Vegas stories emerged of heroism, bravery, selflessness, and compassion. Such acts shine as rays of hope in the midst of evil’s darkness. Evil is real. Yet so is truth. So is love. So is faith and hope. Evil exists because worship of the Almighty does not. Let us then pray that in the midst of this present darkness, our nation might turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and find life, hope, faith, and love.
You think about that.