What to think in the face of another school massacre?
Last week images flashed across our screens showing the devastating and heinous effect of yet another mass school shooting. On 24 May a teenage boy clothed in full body armour entered Robb Elementary School, in Uvalde, Texas, USA, to carry out the second deadliest school shooting in America’s history, leaving 19 students and 2 adults dead. While this news will be shortly relegated to the dustbin of history, the psychological, emotional, and physical effects on those children, teachers, parents, and citizens affected will last a lifetime.
My aim in writing this post is not to discuss the details of the tragedy, as the news outlets have given us more than enough information. Nor is it to enter the political debate over the merits of gun control. Having lived in the US for a little over four years, I know only too well that I am not qualified to begin to understand the deeply held belief in human freedom embedded in the American society and inscribed in the American constitution, particularly the second amendment. But what I do want to do is briefly grapple with the question, how should Christians think about this? How do we process this tragedy, and others like it?
Firstly, it is right for all of us to feel the weight of pain and grief that such tragedies bring to the human experience and to pray for those affected. Life is lived in human relationships and as such we can empathise without having to experience the same loss ourselves. Love for our fellow human beings causes us to weep. Jesus’ love was evident through His tears when He considered Jerusalem’s rejection of Him (Luke 19:41) and witnessed the outflow of grief over the death of His close friend Lazarus (John 11:35). When tragedy like a school massacre hits, tears are right.
Secondly, there is something very disturbing about a person who would premeditatedly massacre helpless children, and the moral outrage at such an injustice has been loud and widespread. But this impulsive response exposes us. It affirms that we inherently understand that we are not, as some have termed, cosmic dust bumping together in a meaningless cosmos. Human tragedy destroys this lie which is only maintained by constant propaganda. At the core of our being we know that we are each uniquely fashioned by a loving Creator who has imprinted His image on all of us, endowing us with dignity and honour (Gen 1:26-27; 9:6). When tragedy like this hits, moral outrage and a cry for justice is right.
Thirdly, the Bible teaches us that God has appointed governments over us for our good and protection (Rom 13:1-7). This may lead to placing walls around our schools, bollards along our footpaths, and security scanners at the entrances of our buildings. But none of that will ultimately fix the root problem. The ultimate problem according to the Bible is this:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9).
The Bible says that out of sick hearts come murderous, hurtful actions toward others (Matt 15:19). No matter what the government does, apart from isolating us from each other – and I think very few want this given the harmful effects of the last couple of years – it cannot control the human heart and perfectly protect us. No matter what we do, the sick heart will find an outlet. So long as we live with each other we will live in danger of each other. When tragedy like this hits, we must recognise that at the root of all sin is a heart that is wicked.
Fourthly, while the human heart is desperately sick, or, as we say, totally depraved, it is not as depraved as it can be. However, when a person, persons, or culture turn their back on God, Scripture tells us, then God gives them over to their own sinfulness (Rom 1:18-32). This is the judgement of God. How does God judge? He just simply removes His restraining hand and allows society to function as if He did not exist. We have removed God from our society and He has removed His hand of restraint from our lives. The level of brokenness is so great that the only answer is God Himself. When tragedy like this hits, we are reminded just how far we have fallen and how urgently we must turn back to God.
Fifthly, since the ultimate issue is an issue of the heart, then we all desperately need a heart transplant. God, through the prophet Ezekiel, prescribed this ultimate cure, saying,
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
To turn back to God means to come to Him for a total heart transplant promised to all who come to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:1-16). God’s solution is not temporal but final. God destroyed sin’s curse and sin’s power by sending His Son to destroy both on the cross, that all who now come to Him by faith will receive His forgiveness and a new heart that no longer desires sin but righteousness. When tragedy like this hits, understand that the gospel is the ultimate answer.
As we consider this tragedy, and many smaller ones occurring daily in the lives of those around us, know that God is not passive. He has appointed the solution and now calls us to prescribe it. May we have His heart of compassion, being His arms of comfort to those who grieve and His voice of hope to those who would listen. “How beautiful are the feet” of such people (Rom 10:15). May the Lord help us to have beautiful feet.
Pastor Craig Baxter