Violence struck awfully close to home in the recent weeks. The sanctity of a small church’s prayer meeting was shattered by a racist gunman. A military recruitment office was terrorized by a radical Muslim in the heart of Tennessee. Twice in the last weeks has a simple trip to the movies ended with death and destruction. How do Christians respond?
Here’s my opinion:
FIRST: We pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We pray for peace (Philippians 4:6-7). We pray for the mentally ill and the misled. We obey Jesus by praying for our enemies, our government, and for boldness even in fear (Matthew 5:43-48). We pray for the police who run into harm’s way while the rest of us run out. We just need to pray.
SECOND: We must not be controlled by fear (2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 34:4). Recent events make us jumpy—and that’s reasonable, but rarely does fear promote good long-term decision-making. Fear motivated Pharaoh and Herod to infanticide, Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees to murder, and Hitler’s Germany to genocide. We may be tempted to stay home; don’t. Society is incredibly safe. Statistics indicate that the rate of violent crime is at the lowest it has ever been in our lifetimes. Don’t let fear control you.
THIRD: We must not over-react. We will not bar the doors to the church and shut down the movie theaters. As long as we live in a free society, there will be a miniscule minority of people who use that freedom to cause harm. We ought not to overreact by destroying our freedom. Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” As of 2013, there were 40,024 movie screens in the United States. 99.9975% of them were safe on Wednesday. 100% of them were safe the day before and the day after. This was a tragedy—but don’t forget that it is the exception, not the rule. No amount of metal detectors, guards, dogs, or police can ever guarantee total security. Check out Psalm 20:7.
FOURTH: We must look for ways to be peace-makers (Matthew 5:9). These stories are still unfolding, but there is a common theme in most senseless acts of violence: mental illness. The perpetrators generally are people with great brokenness. Christians ought to be leaders in looking out for the marginalized, the broken, and the hurting. We need to spur our society on towards real, merciful solutions for the mentally ill instead of the revolving doors of hospitals and jails.
FIFTH: We must keep an eternal perspective. Scripture teaches that each one of us will die. If it isn’t by a human’s act of violence, it might be by the violent acts of cancer cells which strangle the body. Regardless, life is a vapor that is here for a little while and then vanishes away. We, of all people, need to remember the things that matter most and live life in light of eternity.
We are grieved that these terrible crimes have been committed. We mourn with those who mourn. We celebrate the men and women whose heroism makes a difference in our lives every day. We look to Jesus as our ultimate hope.