11/6/2017 12:00:00 AM
As a father and a Pastor I was very saddened and angry to hear of the massacre of 26 innocent people simply attending a worship service in a small town on Sunday morning.
The epitome of evil is when violence assaults unsuspecting children in the safety of school classrooms or when violence targets families in the worship sanctuaries of our land.
As a pastor in Chicago I am regularly called upon to help grieving families in the aftermath of gang and street violence. Our street intervention mentors (Urban Life Skills) are often the first responders to corner crime scenes. Each time a life is violently taken on our streets it grieves our families and affects our community, but when our sacred spaces are violated by unrestrained violence it points to a new level of unabashed depravity.
Our first response should be to grieve with those who grieve and pray for those who are in deep mourning (Romans 12:15). Resist the impulse to immediately politicize and blame shift in the midst of tragedy. Before we deal with laws and systems lets be vulnerable humans that show compassion.
Tragedy and acts of violence cause many to succumb to the clutch of fear and anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). Fear forces us to retreat into the false illusion of safety, but faith calls us to live out our convictions more boldly in the face of risk.
There appears to be an increased sense of hopelessness and desperation among segments of our population. Nuclear threats, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, flooding, fires, racial tensions… have lowered a dark cloud of hopelessness on many people I come in contact with. Romans 15:13 tells us that we should “over flow with hope”; "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Look for signs of loneliness, depression and seething anger in the people around you. Most of the random acts of violence are perpetuated by people who are hurt, isolated and angry at the world. They may latch onto a religious ideology that excuses their violence or they may justify a massacre because of a perceived injustice, but at the core the “monsters” are hurt individuals that are lashing out at others in cowardly ways. The power of a loving accepting faith-filled Gospel centered community can turn angry takers into generous givers (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Some people heard of the tragedy at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and were relieved that they did not go to a church on Sunday. I would advocate for another response: “Wow, I should have exercised my privilege to gather with a community of faith to pray and worship God freely in this country!”. Historically the collective consciousness of our communities has been anchored by people of faith gathering to worship, read Scripture and pray. I believe that the greatest grass root movement with the power to keep the heart and soul of our nation is found in the sincere people of God gathered in thousands of places of worship throughout our nation. I thank God for the people of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs who died unexpectedly exercising their privilege to worship.
How should we respond? The way people of God have responded for centuries in the face of tragedy, persecution and oppression. With faith, hope and love knowing that God is in control and ultimately has a plan even in the face of evil.
In the words of the Apostle Paul: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21
by Pastor Mark Jobe