The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., has elevated everyone’s fears about safety and gun violence. Twenty-eight fatalities, including 20 children, have left us deeply shaken.
As a pastor, this is no abstract concern for me. Churches are not so different from schools and have themselves been the targets of senseless, deadly violence in recent days.
On Oct. 24, a shooting attack at an Atlanta megachurch killed a volunteer leader as he led prayer during a service.
On Dec. 4, an elementary school music teacher shot his ex-wife while she played the organ during a Sunday church service, then returned a few minutes later to ensure that she was dead—shooting her again.
These are not isolated cases. According to one source, there have been 130 attacks at churches—71 resulting in at least one death—so far in 2012. There were 108 in 2011, up from just 4 in 2001.
How Can We Be Safe?
We deeply mourn the loss of these lives, especially the children. Yet there is another factor at work here, at least as powerful as our grief. It is fear.
We experience the exact emotion that Truman Capote observed in the good people of Holcomb, Kans., in the wake of a senseless killing in their town:
It might happen again in our town, our school, our church.
How are we to live in such a world?
Fight and Flight
The answer, for some, will be to arm themselves. While mass shootings always reignite the debate about gun control in our society, they also fuel gun sales. Legal or not, the number of people who will take up guns to prevent gun violence will likely increase in the days ahead—even at schools and churches, where armed guards are becoming as common a sight as lockers and offering plates.
The answer for others will be to withdraw even further into the happy isolation that now characterizes suburban life. We already have garage door closers, gated communities, and locked-down schools. Perhaps we’ll add facial recognition scanners at Target and Kroger so that we can shuttle from one secure location to the next, not realizing that we have chosen for ourselves the same lack of freedom that many citizens of the world are fighting to escape.
For us, who believe that the God who created the world continues to love his creation, there must be a way to avoid these extremes—fighting violence with more violence on the one hand, and withdrawing ourselves from the world on the other.
Both responses are driven by the fear of losing the perfect lives we have constructed for ourselves. We believe that if we can somehow keep evil at bay, we’ll have the good life we have dreamed of.
But evil is not a problem to be solved—it is a fact of life. And our lives may be good, but it isn’t wealth, freedom from violence, or a triple skinny no-whip latte that makes them so. It is the grace of God, which brings forgiveness, acceptance, and love.
These things are the answer to the question, “How can we live in such a world?” We do so with peace of mind because we are accepted by God, secure in that knowledge, and we listen to his voice. We are looking forward to another world, another city, in which the gates are always open and the lights are always on.
If you want to shoot someone, buy a gun. If you want to keep them out, install a fence. If you want peace—in your mind, in your heart, in your relationships with others—put your trust God.