Updated: Feb 9, 2019
On Sunday, November 4th, Devin Kelley walked into Sutherland Springs First Baptist church and murdered 26 people. The nature of the mass murder defies the mind’s ability to process it. There is no explanation for it, no theological defense or framework that makes it easier to deal with. It is evil.
This tragedy has shaken many of us. As more details of the morning became known, we learned of the 26 lives that were lost including a pregnant mother, an 18 month old, and eight members of a single family. How can we respond to an act of such evil?
In a little known story found only in the gospel of Luke, a group of people approach Jesus to ask him about a terrible and unexplainable tragedy. Some Galilean Jews were bringing their sacrifices to the temple for worship when they were brutally murdered. Those who came to Jesus do not specify what they want him to do about this situation or even why they are bringing it to him, but Jesus still responds (Luke 13).
There are numerous things to note in his reply to this dreadful slaughter of people in the very act of coming to God.
Jesus offers no theological defense for this horrific crime. He acknowledges only that it happened. He neither attempts to justify how something like this could happen nor to minimize the unspeakable and heart-wrenching nature of the event.
Jesus goes straight to the defense of those who suffered. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans….No…” He did not let others believe for a moment that the victims had done something especially awful and so deserved their fate.Finally, Jesus takes what was likely an unpopular tactic and in the midst of the terrible and unimaginable, reminds those around him of their fleeting mortality and thus the need to make right decisions “now” because “now” is all we know we have.
When we consider what happened in Sutherland Springs, the words of Jesus to this group of people about that tragedy offer us some direction as we try to deal with our own tragedy. We learn the following:
There is no theological defense for this crime. Nothing we can say can make sense of the senseless. Instead, we can pray. We can pray for those who were wounded or grieving. We can pray for others who, like us, are struggling. We can ask God to bring comfort and healing in the wake of darkness and pain.
We can and should defend the victims if necessary. While it is difficult to imagine someone placing blame on anyone but the perpetrator of this atrocity, there is never a situation in which it is correct to place blame on the victim. We can unequivocally say, no one ever deserves to be hunted down, murdered, beaten, tortured or raped. We can then pray for our sinful and fallen world where acts of unspeakable evil seem to be ever more frequent. We can pray that God would turn hearts towards Him, protect the vulnerable and turn hatred into acceptance and understanding.
We can and should embrace our finite nature. We do not know the time or the hour that each of us will depart this earth. We can work to become more mindful of that and seek to make each day count. We can tell our families that we love them often. We can mend relationships “now" since none of us is guaranteed a “later.” We can pray that God would use this atrocity to bring our broken hearts closer to Himself.
The Bible doesn’t promise that this side of eternity we will ever escape the dark reality of sin. Rather, we are reminded to turn to God in our hardest moments. As those in Sutherland Springs are doing right now, all we can do is fall upon the mercy of God and listen carefully to the words of Jesus: as hard as these times are, we never blame the victims, we never excuse the evil, we are never surprised by our mortality and we always seek to remember that all we are guaranteed is the moment we are in right now.
Let’s make our moments mean something for eternity, and let’s pray earnestly for all who suffer in our world, beginning with the families of Sutherland Springs.