Sunday morning, October 1st, 2017, 22,000 people woke up in or near Las Vegas to a beautiful, sunny day, undoubtedly looking forward to the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival that evening. None of them suspected that would be the day their lives would change forever … that before they closed their eyes that night, 489 would be wounded, and 58 would be dead.
This recent tragedy, this senseless massacre, seems to have riveted the attention of the country in a way that transcends other such events, and raised anew the timeless questions:
- How can a good God allow such suffering and evil? And:
- How are we to respond when these things do happen?
If I were to speak to someone directly affected by it, I would attempt to address these honestly and in a way that doesn’t insult his or her intelligence.
First, I would acknowledge that I can’t answer the “Why?” question definitively. “Why?” is a question we are free to ask God, but he is not bound to answer … and in my experience, rarely does. The classic biblical text for this is the book of Job, an ancient story of a man who suffers horribly for no apparent reason. It has 42 chapters, and the middle 35 are Job asking God, “Why me?” … and getting no direct answer. The reader learns the truth, the “back story,” but Job never does. And if he did it probably wouldn’t have given him much comfort.
I can say, truthfully, that we live in a fallen world, that the Bible tells us God gave us a perfect place to live, but we ruined it through our own rebellion. So when we shake our fists at him and say, “Why did you let this happen?” – we’re like a child who picks up a beautiful, priceless family heirloom, shatters it on the ground, cutting himself and says, “How could you give me this horrible, dangerous piece of junk?”
Second, I would say that I hurt w/ them, that I weep for their wounds and I mourn for their lost loved ones. I know there is nothing anyone can say that will take away that sting or make this any less tragic, nothing that can fill the hole in their hearts where their husband/wife, son/daughter etc. used to be.
(I would not quote Romans 8:28* at a time like this. You may quote it when your loved one dies.)
I would also say that as Christians, we believe in a God who has entered into our suffering and grief, who knows the pain of losing someone he loves. As Jesus stood beside the grave of his dear friend Lazarus, even knowing that he was about to raise Lazarus from that grave – Jesus wept. He wept for what death has done to his planet, for what it does to his people. And even though we are convinced death is not the end – this side of eternity, we weep w/ those who weep, we mourn w/ those who mourn.
Third, evil is real. Sin is real. While comedians make jokes about it and make fun of those of us who still believe in such outdated concepts as good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, virtue and sin … every now and then reality crashes the smug, cynical Comedy Club that American pop culture has become and announces: “I’m ba-ack ….”
Human depravity is not some abstract theological construct cranky old theologians came up with. It is, paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, the one biblical doctrine empirically validated by thousands of years of human experience. It is as old as the story of the Fall in Genesis 3; as true today as when Cain killed his brother Abel in Genesis 4.
How have we gotten here? How have we arrived at this place in American life where it seems we have these unspeakable atrocities every few months?
When we systematically remove every trace of God from the public square – including our government offices, our courthouses, increasingly our entire legal, legislative and educational systems – the public square doesn’t stay vacant. Something will rush in to fill that vacuum. Increasingly it is what many have called a Culture of Death. Why?
We can scarcely watch the news without hearing about another terrorist attack in some major city; the body count in Chicago (556 this year as of this writing… but the weekend’s coming); or a drive-by shooting in Miami.
There are 1.2 million abortions every year in this country – and people who make money by selling baby parts. Video games glorify bloodshed and violence, as do Hollywood “action movies,” and now the Halloween slasher movie season is upon us. Pornography is a $100 billion industry worldwide, and $10-12 billion of that comes from the U.S. alone – an entire industry dedicated to objectifying and dehumanizing women and children … and degrading men. Domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions.
If we don’t think these things all have a cumulative, desensitizing effect on us and especially on young people, we are whistling past the graveyard, amusing ourselves to death. We feed and feed and feed the beast … and then the beast turns and tries to eat us. Surprise!
Evil is real. Sin is real. And while the elites smile and smirk, every now and then a monster emerges and shatters that smug countenance.
The Bible, far from being full of nice stories and fairy tales, plainly states we are capable of this kind of evil: see Romans 3:10-18** among many other passages that illuminate the human condition.
Fourth, we are God’s image-bearers. Evil is real, but so is the fact that we are made in God’s image and capable of tremendous good.
These are the enduring images from that Sunday night’s concert-turned-killing field:
- Husbands were wounded and killed shielding their wives, and parents their children.
- Strangers turned into instant first responders tending to the injured and dying around them.
- Off-duty police officers and paramedics in the crowd went on duty as soon as they realized that sound wasn’t fireworks or feedback.
- Passing vehicles became ambulances, some making multiple trips to the area hospitals, undoubtedly preventing many from bleeding out.
- Doctors, nurses, technicians, EMT’s etc. worked around the clock to keep the death toll from going any higher. And:
- On-duty police officers, aided by two incredible female dispatchers, risked their lives to put an end to a madman’s reign of terror.
The two sides of our humanity: we are radically and pervasively depraved, capable of monstrous, unspeakable evil; and we are the image bearers of God, capable of tremendous good, incredible acts of kindness, courage, even self-sacrifice ….
Both were on display that Sunday night in Las Vegas.
Fifth, finally and most importantly, I would say: there is an answer.
After the massacre I heard numerous commentators, reporters, anchors etc. exclaim: “We must do something. We cannot do nothing.” … By which most of them mean – gun control.
I will not wade into that debate. It’s not my role.
But if we really are serious about doing something to curb this culture of violence, death and wanton disregard for human life, I have some suggestions – if we have the guts to hear them:
Begin teaching morality again in our homes and schools – Judeo-Christian morality. No, that is not a violation of “the separation of church and state,” and that’s not in the Constitution anyway. I’m not talking about establishing a national church or a state religion.
But somebody’s morality is going to be taught: either Judeo-Christian morality, upon which this culture was built; or secular humanism, which gives no firm basis for morality; or some other version. But if you want to teach respect for the sanctity of human life, you’re going to have to look to the Bible. You won’t get it anywhere else.
Teach that every human being is made in the image of God and is to be treated with respect and compassion: from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, and every point in between. Teach that it is wrong to commit murder, that when you assault a human being you implicitly assault God in whose image that person was made.
- the baby in his/her mother’s womb;
- the poor child living with a single mom in the inner city;
- the immigrant, the alien in our midst;
- the prisoner doing life, and the one awaiting death;
- the up and out as well as the down and out; and:
- those on the opposite side of the political spectrum from you.
Let’s stop screaming at one another, pointing fingers and arguing over politics. Not everything is political. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.***
God looked at the radical, deep-seated depravity of man and knew that it called for an even deeper, more radical solution: the sacrificial, atoning death of his Son on Calvary’s cross.
We follow a Savior who also had his life cut short by evil men in an unspeakable act of violence … who rose again from the dead to give us the opportunity of eternal life with him.
Sunday, October 1, 2017, 22,000 people got up, went about their day … getting ready to go to the concert … just another day. For 58 of them it turned out to be the day their mortal lives ended and eternity began for them.
Some of them undoubtedly were ready. Some of them, sadly, probably were not.
I hope you are.
*Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.
10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
***From Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.