First Fort Hood in Texas, now Gateway Center in Orlando. Back to back. Crazy men lock and load and blow folks away – the last episode striking far too close to home, right in our own back yard.
How are we to think in light of all we feel? I ask the question in light of Jesus’ response to certain horrific tragedies in His day in Luke 13:1-5. When informed about Pilate’s murderous rampage in mingling the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices, Jesus asked, “Do you think.”
It matters greatly what and how we think in the face of such things. Thoughts give way to feelings and feelings give way to actions. And actions either glorify God or they don’t. Jesus raised the question in Luke to engender a certain God-honoring reaction (more on that later). My aim is the same in offering these ten thoughts. No doubt more can be said, but these seemed to me to be particularly suited for the events of the last few days.
1. God is sovereign over every event including murderous rampages. He dwells in the heavens and does whatever pleases Him (Psalm 115:3). He brings BOTH prosperity and adversity (Ecc. 7:14). He makes well-being and calamity (Isa. 45:7). The prophet asks, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6b). Chance, coincidence, fate – none of these things govern our lives; God in His providence does. In Christ He is everlastingly FOR US (Rom. 8:31) . He does and will work everything together for our good as lovers of His called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Do not be afraid.
2. God Himself numbers our days, knows the length of their duration to the millisecond, and considers the exact moment of our death a terribly weighty, significant thing. Psalm 31:15 says, “My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and my persecutors.” The confidence the writer has in God’s hand governing the length of His days compels him to pray for rescue from the hand (note the repetition of the word hand and the contrast intended between God’s ultimate power and an enemy’s relative strength). After a near escape with death, the Psalmist observes in 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” The Hebrew word for precious comes from a root which means heavy. It means significant or weighty. God takes seriously the death of one of His own. It is no trifling matter as to its timing. It never takes Him by surprise. Rest in His eternal decree and meticulous concern.
3. Dying is gain and greatly to be preferred by the believer as opposed to remaining in this life. Facing martyrdom Paul writes in Phil. 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ (1 Cor. 15:55). Give thanks and rejoice for this liberating truth and do not toil under a paralyzing fear of death.
4. Murderous rampages and all other manner of evil in this world make sense in light of the fall of man into sin and his suppression of the truth of God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). For these things, Paul says in the same verse, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” He goes on in the context to describe increasingly greater degrees of evil to which God gives rebellious sinners over as just judgment for their sin. He describes them in vv. 29-30 as “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, etc.” Don’t be surprised when you see this kind of thing on the news or in the paper. We live in a fallen world FILLED with such things.
5. Anger must be dealt with completely and thoroughly through the power of the gospel. On the front page of the local paper regarding the Gateway Center catastrophe the suspect’s former mother-in-law is quoted as saying, “He was a very, very angry man.” Jesus called anger toward another murder of the heart (Matt. 5:21-26). Paul warns in Eph. 4:26-27, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” This man apparently saw way too many sundowns without dealing decisively with his rage. It turned to bitterness and resentment knowing no bounds. Let us take heed. Mortify the sins of anger in your life (Col. 3:8) with the strength Christ brings through the gospel (Phil. 4:13). If we do not, we give the devil opportunity.
6. Sinful people need others to act as brotherly and sisterly keepers. The LORD made clear to Cain after the first murder (his brother, Abel) in the human record that he was indeed his brother’s keeper (Gen. 4:1-10). We must have others in our lives holding us to account, and we must do the same for them, if we are to keep from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:12-13), including sins of anger and murder. Don’t go it alone.
7. Prayers should include petition to God for cultural change. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Pray for the gospel to penetrate places like Ft. Hood, Orlando, and every other installation, city, and place the news brings to your attention that He might bring the peace only the Prince of Peace can offer (Isa. 9:6-7).
8. Grief must be felt and processed but not as those who are without hope. One commentator in the local paper made this observation: “We limit our agony and empathy to the 60 seconds that CNN gives the tragedy of the day.” Oh that we might not give way to such shallowness in our humanity. Romans 12:15 exhorts us, “weep with those who weep.” But as we do, we are sorrowful but always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10) for the hope that while the whole of creation groans under the weight of sin it awaits a most certain redemption and recreation (Rom. 8:23).
9. The hope of the gospel must be shared with the lost who grieve over such tragedies as those who have no hope. In directing believers on Crete to live a lifestyle of good works before the watching world Paul reminds through Timothy, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). But God saved us by His goodness and kindness, delivering us out of so horrible a condition. Unbelievers need the hope of the Gospel. Make use of the opportunities God brings, even in discussing these recent events with people where you live, work and play.
10. The people who died at Fort Hood and the man who died in Orlando are no worse sinners for their untimely deaths than anyone else. This is where Jesus was heading in Luke 13:1-5 when He reacted to the reports of the tragedies in His day.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Beware the temptation in human arrogance to think that somehow others who suffer some terrible tragedy must have deserved it more than you because of their relative degree of sinfulness. Jesus warns us not to think that way. Twice He says, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” Sin has left us all in the same condition. We deserve judgment. It will come sooner or later to all of us. The only hope, the only right way to think in the face of murderous rampages and collapsing buildings, the first choice that honors God in the face of apparent senseless tragedy, is to repent of our own sinfulness and place our hope and trust in the power of the gospel. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Start here and we will think rightly about this world full of murderous rampages and other consequences of its suicidal rebellion.