The hordes of Babylon rolled towards Judah like a black storm front. No kingdom, not even the mighty Assyrians, had been able to repel Babylon’s invasive reach. Beholding the grimace of evil unmasked, the prophet Habakkuk cried, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save (Habakkuk 1:2)?”
Like Habakkuk, we live in a time of surging violence. One need only turn on the evening news to hear the gruesome details of the latest tragedy. Last month was no exception. At 2:00 A.M., on Sunday, June 12th, Omar Mateen entered a club in Orlando and unleashed a three-hour barrage of bullets. His murderous rampage left forty-nine dead and fifty wounded; the deadliest mass shooting in American history. To complicate the calamity, Mateen claimed allegiance to the Islamic terror network, ISIS, and the club he attacked caters to the gay community.
The complexities of the attack have inspired the best and the worst of the Christian community. University Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Orlando responded by distributing care packages to policemen, firefighters, first responders, victims and their families and also by participating in around-the-clock prayer vigils at the scene of the crime. On the other end of the spectrum, Brunswick pastor, Ken Adkins received national attention for tweeting: “I see them as getting what they deserve!!” The broad diversity of responses begs the question: How should a Christian respond to such a horrific event?
When Jesus heard that his friend, Lazarus, had died, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled… Jesus wept. (John 11:33,35)” Why would Jesus weep over the death of his friend whom he was about to raise back to life? Even though human nature has been marred by the guilt and corruption of sin, the image of God, his sovereign signature, has not been totally effaced. Thus, every human being (homo, hetero, and everyone in between) has intrinsic, God-given value. The death of an image bearer is like the destruction of a priceless painting by a Renaissance master. What’s more, death is a painful reminder of the consequences of sin and the brokenness of the world in which we live.
How should we respond to the Orlando shooting? We, above all people, should be stricken with Christ-like sorrow because we, above all people, ought to cherish human life.
“Yes,” you might say, “but didn’t the attack occur at a gay night club? These people weren’t exactly volunteering in the pediatric burn unit or feeding the homeless…they were sinners indulging the most basal, animal lusts of their flesh! What about Sodom and Gomorrah? Maybe Ken Adkins was right! Maybe they deserved it!”
I don’t know why God allowed the attack to happen. He hasn’t deemed it necessary to inform me. But I know two things: First, I know that, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…(Deuteronomy 29:29).” Second, I know that Jesus abominates self-righteousness. He openly assaulted the empty logic of the religious establishment in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, given as a spiritual prescription, “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt (Luke 18:9).” The Pharisee believed that his righteousness was to be found in the moral gulf which separated him from the tax collector; “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionist, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (Luke 18:11).” He had forgotten that the standard of holiness was not his sinful neighbor, but rather, “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:15-16).” But the tax collector, of all people, understood that! And so, standing far off, his head bowed down in contrition, the tax collector pounded his chest in self-loathing crying out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner (Luke 18:9-13)!”
How should we respond to the Orlando shooting? Like the tax collector, we ought to be painfully aware of our own sin and misery apart from the grace of God. We shouldn’t be seeking an answer to the question, “Why them?” but rather wrestling with the answers to the question, “Why not me?”
When Jesus was questioned about the culpability of the eighteen who perished when the tower of Siloam fell, his answer was shocking! He answered, “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 (Luke 13:4-5).”
Christ calls us away from our spiritual-rubber necking and unto critical self-analysis. Such humility before a holy God leads the soul reflexively to repentance, that evangelical grace, by which “a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments (Westminster Confession 15:2).”
How should we respond to the Orlando shooting: by weeping with those who weep; by humbling ourselves as sinners in need of mercy; and by remembering our urgent need to repent and believe the gospel to escape the just wrath of God.