Nine Christians and their rampaging executioner lived their last day on earth yesterday. Growing reports of the terror-inflicting mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon seeped into news broadcasts leaving readers and listeners dry-mouthed and uncomprehending. Why do people do these things? When eyewitness accounts described the shooter’s demands to know who were Christians and had them rise to meet his deadly aim, we began to understand his motive, but we could not comprehend his inhumanity. Wrong! Everything in us cries, ‘What he did is wrong!’ At times like this we all know without a shadow of a doubt that there is a moral standard to life. Right and wrong exist. Wrong brings death and horror and pain. Today we feel it and it weighs heavily on our hearts.
But yesterday’s tragedy is not the climax of the story. Those nine brave and true individuals who rose in integrity to stand for the truth of the One who died for them are not victims of tragedy alone. They are victors over the spirit of this world’s sullen attempts to snuff out their light.
“You are the light of the world,” explains Jesus to His followers. It implies the existence of darkness. Jesus well knew the dark influences that would demand the ransom of His own life in exchange for the lives of many. But darkness can’t hold a candle to real light—the brilliant, God-exuding light of truth and goodness and love. “Let your light shine before men,” adds Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
I suggest we view the nine victims as victors for good reason. These nine individuals stood up to a horrific threat, well aware of the consequences of their stand, and accepted the results of identifying with Jesus Christ, even though it meant sure death. Their stand shines a bright light on what it means to be created in the image of God. Their stand, we might even suggest, saved the lives of those who lay on the ground, diverting the gunmen’s bullets from others to themselves. Their choice to stand as followers of Christ in the face of death helps us consider the source of their strength and courage. Christ is that strength.
So terror and death exist, but that is not the end of the story. Christ’s strength makes it only the beginning. The gunman was right about one thing. His victims would not be annihilated by his hateful act but rather meet their Maker in glorious welcome. We sorrow in the loss of their earthly presence, but the great tragedy is the gunman’s own submission to evil and self-destruction. He became the worst victim in the tragedy.
What is the take-home message of this event that tears at the moral fabric of our society? I suggest that each of us ought to think long and hard about what we would have done in a similar situation. Would we have taken a stand for the One who stands forever at the side of those who love Him? If our answer is, “I’m not sure” or even “No”, we are invited by God, the loving Father of every human being, to come to Him in humble prayer. We have the opportunity to turn more fully to His compassion and faithfulness, to ask for His strength and courage to follow Him, and to grow spiritual muscles that will help us to stand for Him in whatever comes our way.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” invites Jesus, “and I will give you rest.”