FIRST-PERSON: Mass shootings -- what's a Christian to do?
EDITOR'S NOTE: John Babler, a professor of counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has been active in emergency services for 20 years and currently serves as a police chaplain and reserve police officer. He has responded as a chaplain to the mass shootings at Wedgwood Baptist Church, Virginia Tech and Santa Fe (Texas) High School.
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- When I heard the news about another mass shooting, this time at an El Paso Walmart, I was deeply saddened. When less than 13 hours later there was another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, I was stunned.
As an emergency services chaplain in such shootings in the past, I know how devastating and chaotic these traumatic events are. The emotional, spiritual and physical consequences dramatically impact victims, witnesses, family members, first responders and communities.
As the threat of these events becomes ever more common, many thoughts may surround one's reflections. For example, they can invoke fear and cause people to think about day-to-day life differently.
On the night of the most recent shootings one person told me that she seriously considered calling off a trip to a Walmart. The next day another person told me she was contemplating having her groceries delivered instead of going to the store. People frequently look for immediate solutions to the problem of mass shootings, either not recognizing or minimizing the fact that evil does exist and that sinful, fallen humans will continue to act as sinful, fallen human beings.
While we should do everything possible to prevent such crises, there will be no quick fixes.
As Christians, it is vital to maintain a focus on the eternal, since God instructs us to be good stewards of all things -- including evil events that happen around us.
I have been trained as an academic and as a police officer to reflect on -- and learn from -- what happens around me. While teaching through the book of Mark in my Sunday School class, I have been struck once again by how Mark presents Jesus' life as one of urgent intensity and how He was frequently interrupted and often surrounded by chaos.
In Mark 5:21-43, we see this clearly as He was called to deal with the tragedy of a dying child (Jairus' daughter) and was interrupted by a woman who touched His garment to be healed of a 12-year hemorrhage of blood. After the report came that Jairus' daughter had died, Jesus ultimately raised her from the dead, revealing His power over not only illness, but death as well. Jesus ministered to both temporal and eternal needs in these situations.
In the midst of tragic interruptions and chaos today, we should follow Jesus' example by appropriately responding to interruptions and ministering in both temporal and eternal matters.
As believers, we can best function as salt and light (Matthew 5:16) when the world is in darkness. While we should grieve such tragedies, we do so as people who know of our eternity. We should offer a contrast to the world's conclusion about such events as we know that God brings good out of evil (Romans 8:28-29).
Many around us are struggling to make sense of these events. To listen and share God's Word, pray with them and serve them in Jesus' name can have great impact on their lives. In prayerfully discerning practical ways to serve them, opportunities could include such things as providing transportation, preparing meals, making phone calls and continuing to spend time with the person.
As important as responding by lovingly serving and helping those around us is, it is even more important to keep eternity at the forefront of our thoughts and ministry efforts. We should take comfort in the fact that this world is not our home.
Mass shootings remind us of how little power we have, how little we know, how defenseless we are. Yet we are reminded throughout Scripture that God is all-powerful and all-knowing and that this world is not all there is. No matter how bad things are or how bad things become, we can find hope in the assurance that we will soon spend eternity in heaven in the very presence of God where there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).
While we are greatly encouraged by knowing of our eternal hope, we encounter a sobering reality. There were many people who went to a Walmart store on a Saturday. It was a normal day for them. Some were celebrating a recent joyful event, some were discouraged, many were just living their lives. For those in a particular store in El Paso, Texas, their shopping trip changed everything. For those who died without the salvation from sins that only Jesus can provide, their eternity will be spent apart from God.
This reality should motivate believers to be evangelistic. We must not only prayerfully prepare and take advantage of opportunities to share the Gospel with others, but we should cultivate such opportunities by developing relationships with lost people. It is easy as Christians to become isolated from unbelievers. In times like these, there will be questions, doubts, insecurities and fear. When we are in relationships with them, we will be uniquely positioned to respond to their questions, thoughts and fears with the Gospel.
In the light of two more senseless evil mass shootings we can take courage. God will use such events to bring us closer to Him. He will provide opportunities to be salt and light in the midst of a troubled, dark world and to share the Gospel in the midst of such crises. Be a good steward of these circumstances.