This past week we all felt the tragedy of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. When the shots stopped reigning down from a Las Vegas hotel on concert goers, 59 people were dead and 527 injured. As we seek to ascribe a motive to the gunman, many seek to ascribe a motive to God. How can a just God allow such tragedy to happen?
The challenge of ascribing motives to the Gunman
We like answers. We want reasons. Many in our world don’t believe in God or Satan. There must be rational reasons for behavior. This killer coldly calculated the most amount of pain and death he could inflict. While we want him to be mentally ill, there is no evidence of mental illness. To the contrary, we are finding evidence he intended to do this in Chicago at a large outdoor festival in August.
Confronting evil is difficult. Evil is not always rational. The author of evil is a real Devil described as a thief who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jn. 10:10. This thief robs us of hope and joy. In their place he provides confusion, fear, anger and hate.
The challenge of ascribing motives to God
In our confusion we sometimes cast our fear, anger and hate on God. If God is loving how can He continue to allow bad things to happen to good people? It isn’t fair. That’s not justice.
Don’t believe the Father of Lies. The same verse that talks about the thief, describes God: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jn. 10:10.
I’ll be honest. There are no easy answers to tragedy. But that does not change the character of God. God is the author of life, not death. He wants us to experience life to the full and experience abundant flourishing. One day He’ll return and do exactly that. One day perfect justice will be experienced on earth and there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain. Rev. 21:4.
God is an ever present help in times of trouble
God is not absent in the midst of tragedy. He did not turn his back on Las Vegas. Rather He wrapped himself in love and entered the chaos. God was present when a husband demonstrated love for his wife in sacrificing himself. God was present when a courageous sister threw herself over her brother. Both survived, but her love helped this agnostic young man see God. He came to faith as a result.
God threw himself in front of the bullets of sin for us. He wrapped himself in human flesh and took a bullet for you. That’s how much He loves you. The Bible says it this way:
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13-14.
In times of tragedy we know God is not absent. He is carrying us through. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Ps. 46:1
We are rescued to rescue
Tragedy pulls us together. For a brief moment in time we catch a glimpse of Heaven as we stand in line to give blood, work tirelessly to save life, pray fervently for restoration, and together cry out for justice. We need to carry these lessons into our everyday experiences.
If you claim to be a Christ follower then you have been rescued from sin and death so that you can rescue others. God puts it plainly, “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Ps. 82:4.
Every day in America a neighbor experiences tragedy. This could be from gun violence, domestic violence, abuse, exploitation or a number of circumstances. They are left bleeding on the side of the Jericho road. (Lk. 10:25-37) Will we demonstrate the courage of Vegas and stop to lift them up, rescue them from danger, and see them restored?
How to live the courage of Vegas every day
As we learn to see God present in the midst of tragedy instead of the agent of that tragedy, we can find spaces to shine the light of His love into the darkness. Here are practical ways to carry the courage of Vegas into our everyday experience.
Prayer is not passive. Prayer is crying out to God to do what only He can do. God is a God of justice. He cares about injustice and promises to right every wrong. He invites us to participate with Him in that work but we must prepare through prayer. Pray for Vegas. Pray for your neighbors and neighborhood.
2. Be Resilient.
I spent most of my week in Detroit at the annual Christian Community Development Association Conference. The theme was resilience. As Greg Lee, a Wheaton Professor, remarked, “The source of our resilience is love.” We resist and are resilient through the power of love over hate. Love for God, neighbor and even oppressor.
We need deep authentic love. One of my heroes is John Perkins who at 87 continues to speak great love and wisdom. He gave a strong word of warning,
“We have found a perfect way to hate. We try to make the Bible say what our political silo says.”
Don’t place politics over people. Love and serve others.
3. Be the body of Christ.
We are members of one body which means we have different roles to play. As Pastor Gail Song Bantum said this week, “Everyone cannot be the heart, we need some pinkies.” Sister Samone Campbell opened up a whole new way to look at the body motif when she described herself as the “stomach acid in the body of Christ, liberating energy, and sometimes toxic in large quantities.”
What is your role in the body?
I’ve decided I’m the intestines. I want to push out all the crap. I’m tired of Christians not loving neighbors as they hold onto misguided notions of theology that is really an expression of political ideology. I’m equally tired of advocates who run from the church and from the gospel and so strip their good work of any eternal value. We need both the gospel AND justice. Solid orthodoxy AND orthopraxy.
4. Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly
What does God require of us in the face of tragedy? The same as in all circumstances.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
I was at the CCDA conference to lead a workshop on how the church can do legal ministry. While there are many ways to do justice in a community, one unique, powerful way is through legal aid ministry. Single moms abandoned and desperate as they face legal challenges. Seniors taken advantage of in their isolation and vulnerability. Children needing stability. People needing help and hope.
Did you know that every day more than 4,500 people are turned away from legal help? Or that thousands more don’t even try because they assume help is not available. What if you could change that? What if the church could be a vehicle of restorative justice for your community?
You can and it’s easier than you think through a NO-COST partnership with Gospel Justice Initiative. We created a guide to help you –
How to see Gospel impact through Justice in your community. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send it to you.
If you are a lawyer, God gave you your license for a bigger purpose. Do you believe that? It’s true.
Visit gji.org/lawyer and download our guide How to have life-changing impact through legal ministry.
Let’s honor the victims of Vegas with a renewed commitment to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly together.