On the Sunday morning of the mass murder at a night club in Orlando frequented by homosexuals and others, I was on vacation with my family and so visiting another church. The sermon was on Jonah and the pastor made the point that, unlike Jonah, we should not be prejudiced against unbelievers so that we want their destruction rather than their repentance. I thought for certain that the pastor would use that horrible crime in Orlando to illustrate that precise point, but he never mentioned it. Perhaps he had not seen the news yet, on mornings when I preach I am too busy to check news feeds, too. Perhaps it was too fresh, therefore difficult to understand how to include it, on the fly, with proper sensitivity and insight.
Such an event is complicated and requires both careful thought and careful response as we interact with others. How should we as Christians process, think about, emote over, and respond to this terrible crime? Here are some reflections in no particular order:
- Orlando was mass murder and is condemned by the Word of God. “You shall not murder.” (Exod. 20:13) Take, as a simple definition, that murder is the unjust taking of human life. There are, of course, just reasons that human life may be taken. For example, in self-defense we may take a life and be justified before God. So too when killing combatants in a just war, or when a civil government executes, say a murderer, who has been properly found guilty and sentenced to death. Also when God brings judgment on the wicked, he is righteous to take human life. “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments.” (Rev. 16:5) The ISIS-inspired-terrorist in Orlando is a murderer; he was entirely unjust in taking human life. Indeed, not simply a murderer, but a mass murderer and so his actions are wrong, unqualified evil, abhorrent to God and to humanity. We must understand this for what it is and rightly denounce it!
- Outrage at murder and injustice. God creates all humanity with some sense of justice, a longing for things to be done fairly. “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Rom. 2:15) What happened in Orlando was injustice and we rightly decry it and long for those responsible to be brought to justice, if indeed there are others beyond the lone gunman who was killed. Outrage and a longing for justice are good and right responses.
- Sorrow over the loss of human life and compassion for those affected. Along with outrage, it is right simply to mourn the loss of life. Men and women, made in the image of God and loved by God as his creation, were slaughtered at the hands of a madman. “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) The pain of those losses runs deep and wide. Presumably, everyone there had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and friends. The human suffering, beyond even what happened in the night club, expands outward in ever increasing circles of pain. I well remember the pain in our family when my sister was killed by a drunk driver. The impact of these murders will extend far beyond the news cycle, it will echo down for generations. We are right to mourn and express compassion.
- Self-examination. If you for a moment thought, they deserved it, if you think that somehow this is a good thing that gives homosexuals what they have coming, then you do not understand the heart of God. “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezek. 33:11) While God will judge all sin and condemn those who do not repent and turn to him, he does not delight even in the destruction of unrepentant sinners and neither should we delight in the murders of anyone. Moreover, we do not know the spiritual condition of anyone in that club, to pass judgment without knowledge is a serious lack of Christian charity.
- Freedom from guilt. While many pundits in the world will try to blame Christian morality for tragedies like these we must understand the distinction between holding to biblical morality and propagating mass murder. We are commanded by God to hold to his standards for morality and encouraged to teach others to do so, knowing that obedience to God’s law, and natural law, produce a more joyful, peaceful life in this world. Teaching the truth of biblical morality regarding homosexuality no more makes Christian’s culpable for this ISIS-inspired mass-murder than we would be responsible for an angry wife murdering her adulterous husband, for his adultery, which we believe Scripture also condemns. It is normal for the world to seek to persecute Christians by laying blame on them for any tragedy that happens. As the Christian apologist, Tertullian, wrote around 200 AD in his book, Apology.
The term “conspiracy” should not be applied to us but rather to those who plot to foment hatred against decent and worthy people, those who shout for the blood of the innocent and plead forsooth in justification of their hatred the foolish excuse that the Christians are to blame for every public disaster and every misfortune that befalls the people. If the Tiber rises to the walls, if the Nile fails to rise and flood the fields, if the sky withholds its rain, if there is earthquake or famine or plague, straightway the cry arises: “The Christians to the lions!”
- Perspective on the fallen world. As horrible as the mass murder in Orlando is, that is nothing new. During war and outside of war, far worse carnage has been committed, thousands of times in the history of the world. Ever since humanity refused to submit to the loving leadership of their heavenly Father, murder has been the final, awful outcome of our sin and rebellion. “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” (Gen. 4:8 ESV) Until our Lord comes to make all things new we will see crimes like this continue. We must recognize that the sin in all of us, left unchecked, could lead to murder.
- Perspective on radical Islam. Islam is a vast religion with many different sects and worldviews, not unlike the breadth of different kinds of Christian denominations and sects in the world. Many Muslims do love peace and are not at war with the West. However, this tragedy serves as a violent reminder that when Islam goes bad, it tends to go bad toward violence. While Christianity is not without its own shame in this department, the life and teaching of Christ could not be more different than that of Mohammed. Mohammed was a warrior, a conqueror who put to the sword many of those who did not convert. In short he conquered by killing. Jesus Christ taught his disciples to be meek, to overcome evil with good, to lay down their lives in service. In short, he conquered by dying. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:44) The legacy of these two leaders is seen distinctly in their followers today, on the whole in Christianity, and by a hardened minority in Islam. But even if the minority is small, say 1% of Islam is radicalized, that would mean that there were 20 million jihad-oriented Muslims on the planet, even 1/10 of 1% leaves 2 million people bent on destroying the Western way of life. We are wise to keep this in mind as this new world-war continues to brew on many fronts.
- Perspective on what to say to others. Some today feel that in order to show solidarity with those killed that Christians must take up the LGBT banner in support or somehow apologize for espousing biblical views on sexuality. While we should clearly comfort and support those impacted by these murders, and should not countenance the bullying or dehumanization, biblically speaking, of any people, neither should we celebrate those things that are sinful in the eyes of God. While the world will hate us for drawing this distinction it is one we must make. Had the Orlando attack been, say a Hindu murdering Muslims, while we would voice sympathy and support for those killed we would not, as a result, convert to Islam, to show our support. Support and sympathy for people does not mean endorsing all their particular views.
- Confidence in God’s sovereignty. When we see mass murders like this one, or those on much larger scales, like the massacres perpetrated by Mao (50 Million), Stalin (20 Million), and Hitler (17 million) we must remember that God rules over the world yet. As much leash as he has allowed us to do harm, he still works in the midst of this human suffering and pain to bring about his own good ends. As Joseph realized long after his brothers sold him into slavery, God was at work doing good in the midst of their evil. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20) Again, as a personal aside, I have seen God use my sister’s tragic death to produce much good and blessings in this world. We are right to hope that what the mass-murderer intended for evil, God will yet again use for good.
- Hope and longing that Christ will return and make all things new. Until our Lord returns this world will always be, to a greater or lesser extent, a dangerous, threatening and unwelcoming place for his followers. While we are called to work for peace and justice for all people today, we know that this is a goal beyond the ability of the state, the church, the school, the individual, or the family to ultimately produce. We rightly long and hope in response to horrible tragedies like this one, for the grand and good day when Christ returns to make all things new. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4)
As tragedies like this strike, let us not be discouraged or lose hope, but keep looking to Christ, and seek to serve him more and more faithfully in this fallen world as we wait for our King to make all things new.
Author: Rev. Dr. Tom Hawkes