Nobody prays for mass violence. Sane people recoil when innocents are slaughtered, and society denounces monsters who gleefully rob other human beings of their chance at life. But creation has a way of extracting good things from dark days. Forest fires actually strengthen the trees that survive. The same plate tectonics that unleash earthquakes also create the nitrogen that makes life possible on the earth.
National tragedies produce positive by-products as well: they tend to highlight the value of life and the virtues of grace that decaying nations have abandoned in their lust for the cravings of Self. As a hail of machine gun fire rained down on concert fans in Las Vegas Sunday night, we also witnessed the courage that country music sometimes celebrates:
- First-responders to the scene willingly became easy targets as they worked in the open to protect terrified citizens huddled on the ground all around them.
- Off-duty police officers and military veterans in the audience risked their lives to direct panicked individuals to escape routes, prevent victims from bleeding to death, and cooperate with law enforcement teams arriving on the scene.
- Men died shielding their wives, girlfriends, and children with their own bodies. Young people paused in the rush to safety to carry gun-shot victims with them.
- Off-duty medical personnel who happened to attend the concert found themselves treating the injured and the dying as bullets riddled the ground around them.
Such heroism makes no sense in a secular survival contest where you have one shot at life and then you’re toast. If you’re only here for a moment, there’s not enough money in the world that can compensate for losing your minute on the planet for someone else, especially a stranger. That kind of self-sacrifice when the strong give it up for the weak makes no sense in the grand scheme of evolution but makes perfect sense in the realm of Eternity.
As life gradually loses its meaning in our godless wilderness, powerful words and expressions can be drained of their meaning as well. Terms like “sacrifice” and “hero” tend to fade into the cultural mess. It’s when bullets start to fly that we instantly remember who the heroes are. Cancer survivors and children who succeed against inner-city despair are inspiring and worthy of celebration. But a genuine hero is someone who risks his life for the benefit of others. That risk is a noble one because human life is sacred.
Nobody gets to live in his own little world. That’s just an illusion made possible by high-tech devices, private homes, and anonymous neighbors. In fact, we all share the same small planet with untold numbers of wonderful human beings plus a few seething psychopaths and violent fanatics. Sadly it sometimes requires a crazed gunman to remind us that life is a gift and our fellow human beings are often incredible people. Video games and fantasy football are addictive until a stranger tries to terminate you. Values can be turned upside down in a heartbeat.
That’s why survivors of mass violence yearn for answers that elude the talking heads and trendy voices of the culture. There must be a higher justice awaiting cold-blooded killers who escape justice here. And how are the scales finally balanced for martyrs who raced into danger to rescue people at risk? The human heart knows instinctively there is more here than meets the eye.
In the wreckage of life’s storms, weary hearts recognize there must be Truth out there. And here is what people of faith have discovered in scripture and in life:
- The Creator always brings life and light from chaos. Before God said, “Let there be light,” the earth was formless and empty and shrouded in darkness. He did it again with his Son’s death on a cross. He’s been resurrecting life ever since.
- Public opinion polls change from moment to moment, but God achieves his purposes over the centuries. Men and women chase after fashions, but heaven values fruit that lasts.
So we continue to pray for the wounded and the grieving in Las Vegas. And we lift up the Cross!