Monday, December 10, 2007

making sense of tragedy

There are a lot of headlines that I wanted to tackle over the weekend but didn’t get to. They’ll be up here eventually, but I can’t post another word without acknowledging the tragedies that happened over the weekend in Colorado. First and foremost, I want to echo the prayer of Michael Sheridan, Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

This hits pretty close to home as it wasn’t far from the first shooting that I took some very early steps in my Christian walk. And although it’s been years since I lived in an apartment a few miles north on Wads, I still have the feeling of, “I can’t believe it happened here.” I feel the same way about the other recent shooting in Omaha. That one hit close too as I was there just the day before. So it’s hard to sort out all these feelings and try to form a coherent thought.

As of the time I’m writing this, the shooter has been identified although no motive as yet been disclosed. I fully plan to update this if/when that happens. It also looks like both the shooting in Arvada and in Colorado Springs are related. (Update: It’s been confirmed the shootings are related and that the shooter, “hated Christians” and was thrown out of Youth with a Mission three years ago.)

There is a lot of speculation as to why and how something like this could happen. As expected there are many messages posted on the Denver Post website placing the blame on the churches themselves or even Christianity as a whole. I prayed at length about this this morning and I still can’t comprehend how anyone can equate a doctrine or polity to the murder of the innocent. Regardless of any single person’s belief on any of the hot topics of the day, or what that person might hear from the pulpit, or the name above the door to the church they attend, no one deserves to be killed indiscriminately. Yet there are many (I hope and pray, only a very vocal minority) who flat out hate anyone who claims Jesus as their savior without knowing their personal creed.

But this is a very broad brush used to paint a very narrow (singular, really) issue. Let me state as clearly as I can, the Jesus I follow does not condone hate. The Good News is that he died for the forgiveness of our sins, no matter what sins those may be. And that the greatest love anyone can have is to lay down our life for another.

Now, I can’t think of any Christian who would disagree with any of those. Can anyone find any fault in what I just wrote that could excuse senseless killing? Yes, there are churches that emphasize some sins as being worse than others. But, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) Does it matter what our sin is if we all fall short? Don’t we all need to repent of the sins that keep us from having a fulfilling relationship with God? At the same time, we cannot excuse sin. And it doesn’t matter what that sin is. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Rom 6:1-2)

But there are some that believe that since the Bible condemns their lifestyle that Christians “hate” them. That they can’t follow a God who is so arrogant to condemn anyone who disagrees with him. If we preach that Jesus is the only way to salvation, then that means we hate anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. The thing is, the exact opposite is true. If we really hated someone and thought we had the only golden ticket to heaven, would we bother telling them? Would we, really? For someone to say that they’re not surprised someone opened fire at a church because of current-event politics is absurd, it insults my faith and is contrary to everything Jesus lived and taught.

One more thing before I get off my soapbox. When I first read the AP version of this story yesterday, there weren’t a lot of details yet. So I guess to fill column length, they felt the need to point out that New Life Church was started by Ted Haggard and then proceeded to spend a couple of paragraphs reminding us of his scandal. As if that has anything to do with this. I don’t know though. As sick and twisted as the hate that some people have towards Christians, maybe it does. (Update: the updated AP story still references Haggard, but doesn’t describe his personal scandal. And while the shooter has a link to the Youth with a Mission school, there doesn’t yet appear to be any connection between the shooter and New Life. So the motive for targeting that specific church is still unknown.)

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