“This is awful. I have a very close friend that didn’t make it today. And I have another close friend who didn’t either, and one who is at the hospital that I hope is going to make it through. So when we talk about praying, I hope people will.” This is how Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear responded after traveling to Old National Bank in downtown Louisville, the scene of a shooting yesterday morning that killed five people. Another eight victims were hospitalized, including an officer who was shot in the head while responding heroically to the scene.
The gunman, a twenty-five-year-old bank employee, was livestreaming the rampage before he was shot and killed by police. He called a friend before the attack and left a voicemail saying he felt “suicidal” and planned to “kill everyone at the bank.” His motive is unknown at this writing, but sources say he had been told he was being fired from the bank.
Two weeks earlier, one of the victims of the school shooting in Nashville was Cindy Peak, a friend of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s wife. “Cindy was supposed to come over to have dinner with Maria last night after she filled in as a substitute teacher yesterday at Covenant,” Lee said in an address the day after the shooting.
If you have the feeling this morning that no one is immune from such violence, you’re right.
“Man produces evil as a bee produces honey”
Americans will continue debating whether we need new gun laws and/or whether we need better enforcement of the ones we have. (For more on this issue, see Mark Legg’s excellent article on our website, “What does the Bible say about gun control?”).
My focus today is more cultural than political or legal.
As I noted recently, American democracy is built on consensual morality. We agree to abide by the laws our elected officials agree to create. Thus we pay our taxes, obey speed limits, etc. So long as what is in one person’s interest is in everyone’s interest, the system works. Even if I am angry with you, I am not willing to go to prison as a consequence of harming you. Even if I’m running late, I’m not willing to pay the ticket I risk by speeding.
However, as we saw yesterday, this system only works until consensual morality is no longer moral. When conventional wisdom about sexuality began changing in the 1960s, social devastation has been the result. For example, supporting abortion is clearly not in the unborn child’s best interest, but unborn children can’t vote.
Here’s another way the democratic system breaks down: when someone is willing to die to kill others.
When we are driving home from work, we share with our fellow drivers a mutual desire to arrive safely. But if someone is trying to kill another driver on the road and is willing to die in the attempt, the rest of us are at risk. When we fly in an airplane, everyone has a clear interest in arriving safely, unless someone on board is a terrorist willing to die as a “martyr.”
In the shooting violence of recent days, the shooters were willing (and perhaps wanting) to die. Our system built on consensual morality is not built for this. But we ought not be surprised; as novelist William Golding observed, “Man produces evil as a bee produces honey.”
Three biblical responses
How can we respond biblically to such evil?
First, remember the nature of the Father we serve and trust. According to Aristotle, God stands above and beyond all of this as the “Unmoved Mover” of the universe. However, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel disagreed, claiming that God is the “most moved mover.”
If every victim of every shooting was your child, what kind of grief would you be experiencing today? That is how our Father feels right now. Except, unlike fallen humans, he “is” love (1 John 4:8). As a result, we cannot begin to contemplate the depth of his sorrow for those who are grieving today (Psalm 34:18) and his compassion for all of us (1 Peter 5:7).
Second, view the terrifying uncertainty of life as a paradoxical reminder that preparing to die is the best way to live. Scripture notes, “You do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14), a fact each day’s news reinforces.
Consequently, if you knew that you would die next Monday, what would you do differently this week? Whom would you forgive or seek forgiveness from? What would you do or stop doing? Even if you were guaranteed another fifty years of life on this planet, taking these steps would be the best way to live today.
Third, do all you can to help everyone you can know Christ while you can. His gospel alone is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). He alone can forgive any sin and save any sinner (1 John 1:9). He alone can grant the assurance of eternal life without which no place in this world is safe.
Where “the spiritual life starts”
Here’s the bottom line: the more we experience the living Lord Jesus and his transforming love, the more we are empowered to live in this world of hate as change agents of grace. Henri Nouwen writes:
“The spiritual life starts at the place where you can hear God’s voice. Where somehow you can claim that long before your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your school, your church touched you, loved you, and wounded you—long before that, you were held safe in an eternal embrace. You were seen with eyes of perfect love long before you entered into the dark valley of life.
“The spiritual life starts at the moment that you can go beyond all of the wounds and claim that there was a love that was perfect and unlimited, long before that perfect love became reflected in the imperfect and limited, conditional love of people.
“The spiritual life starts where you dare to claim the first love. ‘Love one another because I have loved you first’” (1 John 4:19).
Will you “dare to claim” such love today?