Like all of you, I have been shocked and saddened by the events of last Sunday when a shooter entered the sacred space of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and opened fire on an unsuspecting congregation, killing 26 and wounding 20 others. Because of ministry commitments that day I was away from the television until later in the evening and unaware of what had taken place. But when I heard the news I couldn’t help but think of how at the very time the carnage was taking place in that church, we were sharing together in a Day of Remembrance at ours.
You would think that a church service would be among the safest public gatherings in our country today. But as this recent shooting reminds us, there is no place on this planet where evil cannot rear its ugly head, not even a place where folk come together to worship and proclaim God’s providential care.
So, how do we as Jesus followers respond to this senseless tragedy? What can we do in the face of such evil? As I’ve thought about this question all week, the following responses come to mind.
First of all, we should hurt. We should look for ways to bear the burden of those affected by this tragedy, even though the chances are slim that we know any of them in a personal way. The Bible tells us that when one part of the body of Christ suffers, the rest of the body suffers with it (1 Cor. 12:26). While normally we associate that verse with how members of a particular congregation should relate to one another, in this case it seems appropriate to extend our understanding of church to encompass a sister congregation that is reeling from something they never could have anticipated. Though we most likely have never known anything of what FBC/Sutherland Springs has had to endure, we’ve certainly had situations come upon us when the spiritual wind has been knocked out of us, and we remember how at the time we didn’t know if we’d ever get our wind back. But then, just the thought that others were in some way seeking to share and shoulder our pain enabled us to do so in time.
We should also pray. We should pray specifically for the injured and their recovery, along with our prayers for the families of those who died in the attack. We should pray as well for the First Baptist Church and their ability to claim their faith as they’ve never had to claim it before. Most of all, we should pray for God to bring good out of this horrific circumstance and to draw as many as people to the place where His grace is found sufficient for every need.
We should be willing to work. At some point our support has to move beyond platitudes and responses that cost us nothing. In this case, as politically unpopular as it is in our culture today, we need to encourage our political leaders to think more carefully and creatively about how to balance Second Amendment rights with public safety, and we also need to address the reluctance of our society to confront the serious issues of mental health, which we don’t seem to want to go to the time or the expense to do.
Finally, we should believe. The tendency in a time such as this is to throw up our hands and see the situation is hopeless. But we as Christians know better. Evil does not win the day. Death does not have the last word. Nothing can frustrate the purposes of God. Our recent Day of Remembrance ought to stir us to consider not only the martyrs in day’s past but also the martyrs in our present day, and how their witness can inspire us to be more courageous in ours so that however we may be tested in the days ahead, we too might be found ever faithful.
You should know that Mountain Brook Baptist Church is also looking for other ways to offer tangible support to the Sutherland Springs community and the good members of its First Baptist Church. But in the meantime, let us choose the path of hope over despair and hold even more fast to our conviction that no matter how much or how often the forces of evil intrude upon our daily existence, such sacrifices made by ordinary people endeavoring to practice their faith will point in the direction of the promise of the book of Revelation and how “the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ” (Rev. 11:15).
“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:24-25).