Everyone who woke up to the news about the mass shooting in Las Vegas sifted through the news reports waiting for one piece of information we may never know.
What motivates a man to open fire on a crowd of strangers at an outdoor concert, killing at least 58 and injuring more than 500?
When Dylan Roof began shooting people in a church in Charleston two years ago, his own statements made it clear that racial bigotry was behind his actions.
When Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six teachers, we eventually realized that his actions were tied to his mental health.
But when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock took his own life after spraying bullets on a crowd of country music fans, he left us with no explanation for his actions.
The news story on CNN.com today cannot answer the question everyone is asking. “Why the massacre happened,” they report, “remains a mystery.”
That will be the relentless pursuit of news reporters for the next few weeks. They will be trying to help us understand what seems incomprehensible today. Why? How could someone do something so horrible?
Truths to cling to in the midst of tragedy
Events like this also open up the age-old question about how a loving God can sanction evil. Books have been written on this subject, and the simple answer always comes down to this: “For His own purposes.” There are times when our only option in the face of evil is for us to be still and know that He is God.
As unsatisfying as that answer might feel, we must remind ourselves that God’s ways are “unsearchable” and “inscrutable” (Romans 11:33). As the old gospel song says “farther along, we’ll understand why.”
There are three truths we need to remember when events like this occur.
The first speaks to our own sense of safety and security. When a seemingly random act of violence like this occurs, it makes all of us a little more anxious about our surroundings. After all, none of those concert goers were worried at all about their safety. They were having a good time. And now, more than 50 are dead.
So in the midst of our day today, is it possible that we could be a victim of a random act of violence?
The promise of Scripture is that nothing will happen to you today that is not permitted by a loving, holy Father.
It is with confidence that King David declared in Psalm 5:11, ”But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them.”
And in Psalm 57, when he was being hunted by King Saul who wanted him dead, David declared, “In you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”
Of course, the Bible doesn’t give us a guarantee of safety from every kind of harm.
But Job 1 teaches us that no harm can touch us that has not first been allowed by God.
The shooting in Las Vegas did not slip past God. Our times are in His hands.
The second truth we need to remember when events like this occur is that the seeds of this kind of murder are in each of our hearts.
In Matthew 15, Jesus describes our hearts. He said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander…” He is confirming what the prophet Jeremiah had declared centuries earlier: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
In his book Lord of the Flies, author William Golding tells the story of what happens when a group of British schoolboys are stranded on an uninhabited island, fighting for survival. These well-mannered young men become barbaric. Their circumstances bring to the surface the murder that was in their hearts to begin with.
What the Bible teaches us it that the Las Vegas shooter could have been you. Or me.
The final truth to remember when events like this occur is that we need to make sure we are right with God.
In Luke 13, Jesus is asked about a tragedy that had occurred in His day. His followers were suggesting that when people die in some kind of random act, God is judging them for some kind of hidden sin.
Jesus responded by saying, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?”
And then He looked his audience straight in the eye and said “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3-4).
None of us knows when the day of death will come for us. But we can be sure that a day of death is ahead for all of us, unless Jesus returns while we are still alive.
And on that day, there is a greater tragedy coming than what happened in Las Vegas. Those who have rejected God’s love and mercy and grace in this life will find themselves cut off from His love and mercy and grace for eternity.
As horrible as a mass shooting at a concert is, there is something even more horrible ahead for those who have not surrendered themselves to Jesus. What they will face on the day of their death will be the wrath they deserve from a righteous Judge.
And for those who had surrendered their lives to God who died in the Las Vegas shooting, today is actually a day of great rejoicing. Their exit from this life may have been cloaked in tragedy, but their entrance into glory was filled with unspeakable joy.
If you’re struggling with how to talk to your kids about tragedies like this, check out Barbara Rainey’s article, “How to Talk to Your Children When You Wake Up to Yet Another Tragedy.”