Last Sunday, in a small Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a lone gunman entered, and in an act of pure evil, massacred twenty-six individuals and wounded twenty more of the congregants there. Most of those killed and wounded were children. One cannot fathom the level of depravity that would drive someone to senselessly murder innocents like that.
A week ago, we came home from attending worship services at our church in Cochrane, Alberta, to learn of the shootings through social media and through the heart-breaking texts sent to my husband from his field operations man who lives and works in Sutherland Springs. In one chilling text Nick wrote: “I’ve lost 8 of my family members in the shooting.”
How does one respond to that kind of announcement? My husband and I have had a week to process it all, though physically removed from the reality of the horrific events, distance still does not numb the shock. The only thing my husband and I could do was to pray! We wept for Nick, and the other families who had suffered so much loss, and then we prayed for them. Sometimes we faltered, not knowing what to pray, but we knew that Christ was groaning and interceding for us when we couldn’t find the words! (Romans 8:26) We have not stopped praying. My husband, Charles, has spoken at length with Nick over this past week, and Charles and another work colleague will fly from Calgary to San Antonio to attend the funeral(s) representing the oil company they all work for.
Scripture tells us that pure “love” is the willingness to lay down one’s own life for someone else. (John 15:13) Christ did just that when He laid down His Life by dying on the Cross for us, while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8) He was our Ultimate Sacrifice. A sacrifice that the writer of Hebrews says is a “once and for all” act. (Hebrews 10:10) We, as Christians, can never thank Him enough for that act of pure love. It was a gift freely given so none should perish. (John 3:16) It is an eternal gift, bought at a great price!
This past week, as we’ve all come to a kind of unwilling acceptance of the horror of the tragedy, we have learned much about the victims, the heroes, and the heart-wrenching stories of self-sacrifice inside that church and after the shooting. One story in particular hit a nerve with me: a Sunday School teacher shielding her teenaged grandson with her own body sacrificing her own life to protect him. What exceptional bravery on her part, and what an act of pure love!
Even in the midst of such profound suffering in that community, numerous testimonies of God’s faithfulness and goodness are already being told all over the media. It indicates to me that although it seems that darkness threatens to overwhelm the world, the Gospel message will never be squelched! To prove my point, the Texas Governor Gregg Abbott proclaimed Sunday, November 12th as “… a day of prayer across the state for Texans to unite to pray for those affected by the “horrific, inexplicable evil.”
“Even though anguish and sorrow hang over the community, we will not be overcome by evil. Together we will overcome evil with good. You all have already shown that,” Abbott said at last Sunday night’s prayer vigil.
“Love will conquer evil. You left me inspired. Hours before that [vigil] your community saw the very face of evil. Hours later, you reflected the very grace of God. You are a demonstration of God’s grace across this entire world,” Abbott said.
Of course there will always be those people who want to use this horrific event to politicize it, or to make light of prayer, or to use the tragedy for their own worldly agendas. I am not going to comment on that. Instead, I applaud what Vice President Pence said when he attended a vigil in Texas Wednesday for those killed, “We mourn with those who mourn, and we grieve with those who grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope – for our faith, and our heroes, give us hope.”
Some have pointedly asked in the aftermath of this, “Where was God?” “Why would God allow this to happen?” We all cry out to God for the answers to those questions when our human experience cannot explain the evil of this world. I understand. It is natural to ask the “Why?” questions but when we ask we must also be willing to accept the answer, even if we don’t fully understand or even agree with it. Max Lucado said last week: “Life is a dangerous endeavor. We pass our days in the shadows of ominous realities. The power to annihilate humanity has, it seems, been placed in the hands of people who are happy to do so.
Contrary to what we’d hope, good people aren’t exempt from violence. Murderers don’t give the godly a pass. Terrorists don’t vet out victims according to spiritual resumes. The bloodthirsty and wicked don’t skip over the heavenbound. We aren’t insulated. But neither are we intimidated. Jesus has a word or two about this brutal world. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28).”
He continued, “We Christians trace the source of violence back to the devil. We place the fault of bloodshed at the feet of the one whose days are numbered; Satan. We find our hope in the sure victory of Jesus.”
For those walking in darkness, this truth from Scripture may seem ludicrous and insensitive, but for those of us who believe in our Risen Saviour, this is our Hope! Christians are not exempt from the violence of this world. God may choose to spare us, or He will deliver us into His loving, eternal arms, either way, we are delivered. We are guaranteed entrance into Heaven because of His Act of Pure Love. As long as we accept His sacrifice and as long as we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ we are saved.
In the presence of such evil in this world, we are confident that God will always be with us, no matter the circumstance, no matter the opposition. We must never lose hope, and we must not let fear defeat us in times of tribulation.
I ask that you continue to pray next week as the funerals are held for the victims of this senseless shooting. Pray for those who are still recovering in hospital and for all those families directly impacted by this event.