Mass Shootings and Faith
The Hampton Roads area was struck with tragedy last week as twelve innocent people lost their lives at the hands of a single shooter. The funerals will begin this week. The physical wounds of those who were injured and the emotional wounds of those who have lost loved ones will last a lifetime.
Every time one of these events occurs, the airwaves light up with experts and politicians who have opinions on how we might prevent the next mass shooting. The debate doesn’t change much. Do we need more guns or fewer guns? How do we balance security measures with freedom of movement and normalcy? Should we have more gun control or put more guns in the hands of people who can respond to emergencies? And are there better ways to identify and stop those who might commit these horrendous crimes?
These are important discussions, as are tangible steps that might come out of them in an effort to bring about change.
However, one perspective is frequently absent from the public forum. What role does one’s spiritual life play in the decision to take innocent lives?
There may be a number of reasons why faith is only a part of the response to a mass shooting and not a part of the solution. Some people likely see “religion” as a part of the problem. Certainly, terrorist acts fall into this category as shooters often show signs of having been radicalized by terrorist organizations. Others likely believe religious people should “stay in their lane” and work to pick up the pieces after an event.
While I don’t think it helps when Christians try to solve violence with worn out clichés and angry rants, I do believe the root of the problem is spiritual. As long as humans inhabit the earth, we will continue to witness violence and the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil-doers. But there are some very good reasons why faith may be the most important solution to the problem.
Our faith in God instills and reinforces the idea of the sanctity of life in our hearts and minds. Punishment is a deterrent, but the core belief that we are created in the image of God changes how we see others and how we respond when we think we have been treated unfairly.
The Lord’s church provides a sense of community where others help us with our struggles. This doesn’t mean going to church will keep people from harming others. In fact, since the church is a place for hurting people, there is a good chance those who commit violent crimes will have some connection to a church family. But for those who take their walk with the Lord seriously, the church is a place where they learn grace, forgiveness and compassion. It is a place of confession, love and restoration. There is no way to know how many acts of violence have been prevented because the people of God helped a brother or sister work through their anger.
The Bible teaches us numerous ways to process our negative feelings toward others. For example, it tells us it is alright to be angry, but we should never let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4:26). We should respect and depend on those in authority to carry out justice if we believe we have been wronged (1 Peter 2:13-14). We should remember, while we might take steps to protect ourselves from those who want to hurt us, and it is permissible to seek justice through the proper authorities, vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). The Bible also teaches conflict management (Matthew 18:15-17) and records the Parables of Jesus, which teach mercy, and forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-35).
It is hard to say whether one principle or lesson from the Lord will prevent someone from following through with a plan to kill innocent people. I realize there are conditions of the mind that escape us. Yet, I propose even some of these are partially a result of a heart and mind that has not been tempered by biblical truth. In addition, we should not assume people with mental disorders are not capable of being tempered by spiritual truths.
There are many nuances to this subject. “Religion” is not the same thing as a sincere walk with Christ, and even the latter can be used by those who have lost perspective to justify their actions. Humans are messy.
Still, I am convinced people of faith are grounded in principles that help them cope with the kind of anger, bitterness and resentment that can lead to violence.
I would like to hear more people talk about the heart and soul of our nation and how wandering from God has helped lead us to our present circumstances. It is time to look beyond “thoughts and prayers” and ask ourselves how serious we are about viewing our world from God’s perspective.