Five days after the Navy Yard shooting, Aaron Alexis continues to make headlines. We now know he scratched the words “Better off this way” into the Remington 870 shotgun he used. We have learned that he apparently suffered from mental illness. We know that he was arrested in 2004 for shooting out a man’s tires and in 2008 for disorderly conduct. And we know that he recently contacted two Veterans Affairs hospitals, reportedly seeking help for sleep-related issues and because he was “hearing voices.”
How long will he stay in the news? As long as reporters find stories they think we’ll want to read. But he’ll soon join the ranks of other mass murderers whose names we seldom remember: Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut, James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado, and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in Littleton, Colorado, for example. Others were never widely reported in America: Matti Saari murdered 10 college students in Finland; Robert Steinhaeuser killed 16 in Erfurt, Germany; Martin Bryant killed 35 in Tasmania, Australia; Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 in Dunblane, Scotland.
Publishers know that we read the stories that matter most to us. Killings in other countries seem less relevant to Americans; shootings that horrify us at the moment fade in memory over time. Half of all Americans get their news digitally from the multiplied thousands of newspapers and sites online. With an avalanche of information available every day, we choose what we want to know. Writers track this information.
So do we. Our staff knows what topics generate the highest and lowest “open rates”—the number of readers who open a Cultural Commentary on a given day. For example, more of you opened recent Cultural Commentaries on Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie and Ashton Kutcher than on DOMA and Prop 8 or God’s view of war with Syria. We don’t base our topic decisions on this data, but we consider it. If we were in business to sell advertising, however, we would write on celebrities every day.
Two principles follow. One: Christians should be concerned about more of the world’s problems than what affects them directly. Jesus called us “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Notice the definite article—we are the only light in a dark culture. If you were holding the only flashlight in a dark room, whose fault would the darkness be?
Two: God remembers the grief that others forget. You may be dealing with pain the rest of the world no longer acknowledges, but Jesus feels all that you do. Our Savior was “tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15) and suffered the cruelest torture a body can experience. The One who wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35) still weeps at the grave of the one you love. As you hurt, he hurts.
Theologian D. A. Carson was right: “Frequently it is when we are crushed and devastated that the cross speaks most powerfully to us. The wounds of Christ then become Christ’s credentials. The world mocks, but we are assured of God’s love by Christ’s wounds.”
Why is that fact relevant to you this morning? Will your compassion make it relevant to someone else today?