I wrote this over three years ago…
In light of the Sandy Hook Elementary I thought these thoughts might again speak a bit to us…
A Spiritual Response to the Blacksburg Tragedy
On Monday April 16th, 2007 our moral and spiritual sensibilities were once again bludgeoned by a senseless brutal act that took the lives of 33 precious individuals and horribly impacted countless others. Since the earliest reports that morning; our televisions, computer monitors, and minds have been filled with non-stop images of brutality and mayhem. With no escape from the non-stop news reports, some have attempted to cloister themselves and detach from as much of the horror and gnawing in their spirits as possible. Yet, the media has relentlessly pursued our longing for understanding of such a tragedy with repeated reports that overlap one another ad-nauseam. Just when we begin to believe the incessant repeated information may have been exhausted, the evening news explodes with yet another harrowing detail: the estranged killer took time during his killing spree to vent, video, and mail his polemic to NBC news. The arrival of his package was delayed by an incorrect zip code, yet another indication of his lack of functioning on a reasonably normative level.
As the killers profile has been microscopically analyzed by pundits far and wide, we have been presented a portrait of a troubled, estranged, mentally ill, loner who was disconnected to all those around him. Inside his psyche there apparently simmered a cauldron of hatred deeper than most of us can begin to fathom, much less imagine. So many questions arise that we feel bombarded and overwhelmed to even begin to find answers:
Why did he hate so much?
Was he that mistreated?
What can we do to prevent another recurrence of something this awful?
Why do things horrible things keep happening?
What’s up with all these school shootings?
Has our world gone mad?
Is there a religious element to this?
What is all this about angry young men?
Was this guy a Muslim terrorist?
How did Christianity fail him?
How come nobody did anything to prevent this?
He was admitted for Psychiatric treatment- aren’t trained professionals able to keep an apparent psychopath off the streets?
Where were the authorities in all of this?
Did his parents and family not see how off he was?
What were his roommates thinking as they lived with this guy?
How many more mentally ill people are there out there waiting to snap?
How would Jesus respond to this?
How is Jesus responding to this?
Why doesn‘t God stop this kind of stuff before it happens?
Hitler killed 6 million- where was God?
On and on the questions go…
We could process these thoughts and questions and countless others for more hours and days that we’d care too. At the end of the processing I’m still not sure our answers would satisfy the hole we currently feel in ours souls.
That said, I have some early thoughts on this most painful event.
I am praying that God will enlighten me/us. That as I go through my daily life, in the future, I won’t allow anyone in my realm to be a “shadow’ person’ like this estranged young killer. I am praying that each day my spiritual awareness will grow- to the place where I can for a moment at a time reach out and at least attempt to touch the life of anyone around that is hurting so badly. I am reminded of the words of Anne Frank who said, “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” I know as I pen these words many reading may recoil and say how clueless! How naïve!
I am a Christian Idealist. I am willfully naïve. This week has once again proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that evil is still alive and well in this world. Romans 12:18 tells me as much as is possible live at peace with all men. Note the qualifier; “As much as is possible”. The truth is that in this life some will not allow you to live at peace with them. Jesus tells us we will have wars and rumors of wars. In his earthly life Jesus was constantly assailed by those plotting his death. Why? Why would anyone want to crucify a person of peace who only offered a message of redemption and reconciliation to the world? There are many answers to those questions but clearly Jesus elected to not get embroiled in their wickedness but rather to so live his life as an example of overcoming evil with good.
This week has assailed my/our sensibilities. Yet, once again in tragic circumstances heroes have arisen. As we saw in the tragic events of 9/11 there are countless individuals who rise to the challenge of the given crisis and are truly willing to sacrifice their lives to save the lives of others. In spite of the apparent proliferation of evil as evidenced by the various public tragedies of this week and the past several years, I believe there is far more light rather than darkness in our present world.
I am fully aware that our various media outlets elect to primarily broadcast tragedy and mayhem supposedly because that’s what people tune in to see and that pays their bills. I also believe that in each day that these heinous acts are committed, literally millions upon millions of life giving acts are going unrecorded but not unnoticed. On the same day that tragedy affected the lives on the Virginia Tech campus, millions upon millions were safely attending classes throughout our nation, being taught by dedicated instructors who at the very same moment of the shootings were giving their lives to educate and influence young people. At the very same moment a deranged man was taking lives, countless others in hospitals, ministries, and countless other settings were caring for the elderly, the young, and whosever else was in need. As the very moment of brutality occurred in Virginia, countless others throughout our world were actively creating beauty and life.
It is imperative that we actively engage our world, seeking each day to overcome evil with good. In spite of brutality and senseless carnage which has occurred in every continent in every historical season; far more life has sprung forth from the lives of those willing to offer themselves in the name of peace rather than violence, in the name of life rather than death. Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. have each impacted our world in ways far more significant ways than can ever be adequately stated. They each went against the tide. When darkness raged all around them they each stood their ground and marched headstrong into eternity absolutely confident that right always triumphs over might. Might may win temporarily. Evil seeks to steal, kill and destroy. But God has made a plan that has proven throughout the ages; life finds a way. The New Testament says unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed: but if it dies, it produces many seeds.
I believe in spite of the evil intent of hatred and darkness many seeds were planted in fertile soil this week. We have the privilege and opportunity to live out our lives purposefully, actively intending to prevent further needless loss of life. In their memory we can respond by overcoming evil with good. From death can spring forth life as we determine in our hearts to change our world, one person at a time, beginning first with our selves. As we mature we can then reach out and hopefully bring others along to this path of active resistance to evil, to this path of actively being peacemakers in a world where sometimes darkness tries to quell our light. Each one touch one- with light and life rather than death and darkness. Our light will not be vanquished. Our lives will spring forth to create ever more life. This is our spiritual response to evil. We will not go quietly into the night.Simon Wiesenthal has said, “Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. I am forever asking myself what I can do for those who have not survived.”
Our physical bodies may not have been targeted like those in the classrooms of Virginia Tech but our souls most surely were. Evil longs to create terror, to destroy hope, to leave us weakened. We have the responsibility to respond not in like, not killing but creating, not acting out of hate but out of love. As we have seen gruesome events unfold before our very eyes, we have sometimes thought, there but for the grace of God go I.
In light of this ever-present grace, let us choose to seize this day to leave this world better than we found it, loving as we go.
(Again, these were thoughts from a previous tragedy… Sadly they do still seem to relate. Hopefully they won’t be shared again - ever.)