I was preaching in a little Baptist church in Estes Park, Colorado when Devin Kelley blasted his way into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. We all know the statistics. We have all heard stories of the carnage. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter dying on the floor, the associate pastor, Brian Holcombe, struck down as he stood up to preach, a 1-year-old baby, 14 children, a 77-year-old and others, massacred in a matter of minutes.
It left me deeply disturbed.
I have been disturbed before and grieved these last few weeks by the senseless slaughter of innocents on a bike path in New York, dozens gunned down in Las Vegas, a random shooting at a local Walmart on the outskirts of Denver.
I have been disturbed and grieved over a lifetime of senseless violence. The first I remember was a sniper atop the University of Texas tower in 1966, killing 13. Others stand out: the gunman that opened fire at First Baptist Daingerfield in 1980 that left five dead, including a 7-year-old girl; the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 including 19 children; West Paducah, Kentucky, high school where a 14-year-old opened fire on a group of praying students; Columbine High School; the Twin Towers on 9/11 in 2001; the Amish school in Pennsylvania where a deranged gunman opened fire on innocent girls;” the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut where 20 children ages 6 and 7 were murdered; the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead. These are just the horrific events that I remember. There are others along with senseless killings every day reported in local news across the country.
Perhaps I am especially disturbed and grieved by what happened in Sutherland Springs because I have spent a lifetime preaching in little Baptist churches across the country. I know the smell of church, the feel of the “sanctuary” where people meet to worship, pray and encourage one other. I know the fellowship of those who love God, love each other, and want to bless the world.
Like everyone else, it leaves me reeling with questions. Why does God allow innocent people to die? Why does evil and violence strike at such random and senseless moments? How can people be so deranged and cruel?
Capacity for good, evil
To remove all violence from our world, God would have to remove our human capacity for good and evil. Instead, God chose the cross. The cross is the ultimate expression of innocent suffering and torture. When Jesus endured the cross, He took our violence upon himself. He embraced our broken and lost world with His love.
The cross is not an afterthought. It is not a footnote. The cross on which Jesus died is the focal point of history. It is the place where God’s love meets our agony, our grief and confusion in a violent world. He took our violence upon himself and conquered it in the Resurrection.
According to the theologian N.T Wright, the day Jesus was crucified is “the day the revolution began.” This is the reason crosses are raised above the rooftops, erected on hillsides, planted as grave markers and worn around our necks. Violence will not prevail. Evil has been conquered. The revolution has begun. Another kingdom is coming (Romans 8:31-39).