Last year at this time, I stood over four graves, gazing at stones laid twenty-five years ago in the ground next to our grandparents’ and great-uncles’. Family members too young to remember what happened asked how it came to be that a woman thirty-four years old, and boys only 11, 10, and five years old had the same date of death.
As I reflect on the shootings last week in Oregon and Arizona, I remember the horror of hearing how my four relatives were gunned down in their own home. Only three words summed up the senseless tragedy. “What a waste.”
The four-count murder conviction of a fifteen-year-old brought closure, but not healing. It’s been over two decades, but the weight of grief still lays heavy on my chest whenever I think of it.
It’s with this heavy heart I pray for the families of those killed and wounded in last week’s shootings. Having a family member murdered is one of those events that makes you question, “God, if you’re good, why did you let this happen?” One might even question whether God loves them at all, given their pain.
To those people, I’d like to say: God hears you. Anger, hatred, and murder were never part of His original plan for the earth. When he made man, He called it “very good.” That’s why it hurts us so much when men make the choice to go against God’s design for human relationships. God is big enough for all of your tough questions. You’re not being irreverent if you ask the “why” questions; you’re being honest. It’s okay with God if you need to be angry about it for awhile. In fact, I’d say He longs to hear your frustrated, disgusted, and petulant prayers.
I’ve read no end of unhelpful political debate online since the Umpqua Community College shooting. But having walked through this as a very young adult, I say to those arguing: there is no law or FDA regulation that will stop someone bent on evil from committing heinous acts. We do a considerable disservice to the families grieving such a colossal loss when we put up smoke and mirrors to cover such a crucial issue.
It’s natural to scream, “Something must be done!” in the wake of such tragedy. But the political debates only skim the surface of what’s broken in society. The conditions leading up to a man taking guns to a school campus go much farther than any public policies in place.
The evil plot didn’t begin the day the shooter set foot on Umpqua campus. It didn’t even begin when he obtained the guns. It began at the first whisperings of the deceiver who convinced the shooter that he was anything less than a priceless treasure, knit together by God in his mother’s womb. I won’t pretend to know when or whose lips uttered the lies, but I do know the killer wasn’t acting according to the truth.
If we are to address this problem with any intention of making real change in our culture, we must recognize that we have an enemy set on stealing, killing, and destroying. This is especially evident in the recent case, given that the killer asked some victims about their faith before he shot them.
No person who believes from the depths of their hearts that God is crazy about them and that they have a unique purpose no one else can fill will ever maliciously kill someone.
Preventing the destruction of God’s precious Creation won’t happen in the halls of Congress or the Oval office. It won’t happen with FDA accountability. We must first address the shift in our culture that preceded the need to address guns, drugs, and mental health. Instead of pointing at a politician and demanding external policy changes, we must look at how we’re impacting those in our sphere of influence.
Teaching others the value of human life occurs naturally as we live out our unique purpose. It happens around the dinner table, in our community centers, classrooms, churches, and grocery stores. It happens when we fulfill our calling to make disciples, starting with our own kids and a little prayer and Bible story before we tuck them in at night.
Long after the current clamor over gun control and mental illness is over, families of Umpqua Community College students and faculty will lean over graves to remember loved ones gone too soon. As a society, if we want to honor these dead and the families who grieve them, we must cherish life and teach those who walk behind us to do the same.
Let’s have a conversation in the comments. What ways do you (or did you) instill the knowledge that God has a plan for your kids’ lives (or other people you’ve influenced) into them? How hard was it to counteract the culture lies that scream that human life is cheap?