On December 5, 2015, I wrote a blog about a shooting in San Bernardino, California. Fourteen people had been killed that week by two shooters inspired by Muslim extremists. Only a month earlier I had written another blog about a series of terrorist attacks in Paris which left 130 people dead.
Two days ago, in the early morning hours, another Muslim opened fire inside a bar in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and leaving dozens injured. It has been called the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and if any of the individuals still in critical condition succumb to their injuries this week, the death toll will go even higher.
Something about this latest deadly attack left me even more unsettled than the other two. It wasn’t that the gunman was a US citizen or that he had been able to legally buy assault weapons even after being investigated by the FBI for possible terrorist links. It wasn’t even the attention-grabbing, compassionless response of a certain presidential nominee. It was my own confused feelings about the victims of the attack and the place where the attack occurred.
I first saw the news about the shooting as an alert on my smart phone when I sat down to breakfast Sunday morning. My husband and I briefly discussed the news and then went about our morning routines. At church that morning, no one seemed to be discussing the terrible event that had happened only hours earlier, and no mention of it was made from the pulpit.
Later that afternoon, I scrolled through my news feed on Facebook and was surprised to see how few of my friends and acquaintances had commented on the record-breaking violence happening in their own nation. I later went back and checked the full feed from Sunday morning on. Of my 148 Facebook friends, only five had posted any words of sympathy for the Orlando victims. An additional three had reposted a “Pray for Orlando” photo posted by their pastor, and one had used the occasion to speak out against the US government. After the Paris attacks, many of my friends added the colors of the French flag to their profile picture in solidarity, but nothing like that seemed to be happening now. Where was the outrage? Where was the grief? Where was the heartfelt compassion for the victims of this tragic and senseless act?
Is it because the victims were homosexuals?
Most of my Facebook friends are evangelical Christians, as am I. Is it possible that we – that I – felt less compassion for these victims because deep inside (or not so deep for some) we think of homosexuals as unrepentant sinners, openly living a lifestyle opposed to God’s commands? Do we think of them as more deserving of punishment than we God-fearing, law-abiding folk? After all, didn’t God personally destroy whole towns and people groups living in sin way back in the days of the Old Testament? Didn’t he order the Israelites, his chosen people, to take the lives of their own family members caught in sin?
The role of God as righteous judge stands in stark contrast with his claim that he is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). How he can be the loving father of his creation and yet turn from those who do not accept and obey him is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. What is not so mysterious is the picture of Jesus, hanging on a cross, betrayed and rejected, showing his great love by dying for us – all of us – those who would accept him and those who would not. All of us sinners. All of us deserving of punishment and death. All of us offered the free gift of God’s grace through Jesus’ great act of love.
So today, I am shamed and saddened by my own indifference to people who are really not that different from me. I am praying for them – for the survivors, for the families, for all those personally affected by this horrible event. And I am praying for myself and my Christian friends that God will soften our hearts and open our eyes to a world in great pain.
Today we should be in mourning. Perhaps every day we should be in mourning – a little bit at least – as we glimpse the great evil taking place all over this world and the millions of people affected by it. Someday, when Jesus has returned and the great mysteries are finally revealed, we can look with joy on all that God has accomplished through the suffering and pain. But not today. Today we must mourn.
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What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.