It was an ordinary, quiet Sunday afternoon, aside from the continual dinging of my phone from the string of group texts coming in. My siblings and I were joking about who was “holy” or “heathen” based on our church attendance that morning. But the jovial conversation was rudely interrupted by the startling news of another mass shooting. Another. And in a church. I couldn’t believe it. Is this really the world we live in?
That very morning as I was sitting in my church during our silent time of prayer, the thought came to me how grateful I am to be able to attend church without fear of being followed, betrayed, or threatened. I’ve never been persecuted for my faith or had to sacrifice much of anything for the sake of Christ’s name. This is (regrettably) not something I regularly thank God for, but that morning I realized anew what a humbling privilege it is to worship my God freely and openly in this country.
Little did I know that within the hour there were others who would walk into their own church building to worship Jesus . . . and lose their very lives for it.
While it’s been made clear that this act of violence was not racially or religiously motivated, it still caused me to wrestle with the thought, what if it had been my church? What if, instead of Sutherland Springs, Texas, it was Niles, Michigan? What if, even as I was thanking God for the freedom to worship, a mad man rushed in and opened fire, killing twenty-six members within my church body—people with faces I recognize and names that I know?
A Heart of Compassion
I’m still wresting with what a proper response is to tragic events like what we saw in Texas a week ago. I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around them—and often choose not to. Of course I’m saddened by the news, but with horrific reports like this becoming more and more frequent, it’s easy to turn a blind eye and let my heart grow calloused in order to cope.
But this kind of apathy is not only pathetic, it’s wrong. We worship a God who characterizes Himself as a God of compassion. (See Exodus 34:6.) The Old and New Testaments alike are littered with passages of the Lord showing compassion to the poor and afflicted and helpless.
Somehow I don’t think it’s enough to tweet trending hashtags or update your profile pic with a supportive logo. While those gestures aren’t wrong in and of themselves, I can’t help but wonder . . . surely members of the Body of Christ are called to something more?
When we learn of mass shootings in Texas, (or Vegas, or Sandy Hook . . .) when we read reports of devastation across the country due to natural disasters, when we watch the statistics rise of babies murdered within the womb, when we hear of the millions of refugees and orphans around the world—our hearts should ache like the heart of our Father.
We mustn’t gloss over headlines and statistics because they (tragically) seem commonplace. These victims are real people with real lives; human beings created with love and care in the image of our heavenly Father. We must take the time to grieve with those who grieve. We must extend the compassion of Jesus to a watching world, knowing it could have easily been us in those church pews.
A Heart for Justice
As believers we must also long for justice to be served. Micah 6:8 tells us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” This, however, does not give license to express hatred or anger. I cringe when I hear news commentators dehumanize the shooter, calling him “a piece of garbage.” What has he committed that my depraved nature is not also capable of doing?
In Matthew 5, Jesus spends a significant portion of His Sermon on the Mount increasing our awareness of our sin against a holy God. Maybe you haven’t committed murder, but do you harbor bitterness? Maybe you haven’t committed adultery, but do you lust in your heart?
We like justice when it’s dished out on our enemies, but when it’s directed at us is a different matter. The truth is, if we’re going to take action against injustice, we must come to terms with the fact that without Christ we are the perpetrator.
This realization has caused me to probe deeply into my heart and humbly ask, Am I grieved by my own sin? Do I harbor any bitterness or anger in my heart toward others? Do I take for granted the miraculous saving work God has done in my life—taking this murderous heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh? (Ezek. 36:26)
A Heart of Humility
Earlier I referenced the threefold command found in Micah 6:8. In her commentary on Micah from The Gospel Transformation Bible, Nancy Guthrie reminds us to strive to embody this passage in a way that gladly acknowledges that we will never live this out as we should. She goes on to say:
Only Jesus lived this way perfectly. The wonder of the gospel is that he did it in our place and transfers his record of perfect righteousness to all those joined to him by faith. As he indwells his people by his Spirit, they are empowered to do justice and love kindness, walking humbly in his ways.
This is remarkably good news! While Jesus demands perfection, (literally—just see Matt. 5:48) He knows we can never attain perfection no matter how hard we try. So He made a way!
As Pastor David Platt puts it, “God is infinitely worthy of our worship. We are infinitely worthy of His wrath. So He made a way for you and I to be saved from Himself, for Himself.” Jesus took on our sin and absorbed God’s wrath so that we can be righteous and reconciled before God. (To dive into this further, I encourage you to listen to his full sermon.)
This is why in the face of tragedy we don’t have to be overcome by anger, or fear, or apathy, or anguish. Sin may have its way now in this fallen world, but Scripture makes it clear that God has the final word.
We show compassion, with Jesus as our model. We fight for justice, with a humble heart. We grieve over sin, with the comfort that one day we will weep no more. And we worship King Jesus, with the glorious assurance that He has overcome the world!