I just want to share a few thoughts on the Orlando Shooting. Thought number three in particular is the most difficult and it applies to you, and to me.
1) It’s a horrible tragedy. This was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Fifty died, and fifty-three were injured. My heart breaks for the victims and their families. They’re in my prayers and I hope they’re in your prayers too.
2) We need to guard against acts of terror in the most sensible and effective way possible. This is where everybody wants to go when they discuss the Orlando tragedy. This is the part that’s most popular in the media and in the blogosphere. I have my own opinions, but the purpose of this blog isn’t to offer up the actions I believe we should take to prevent attacks like this one. The purpose of this blog post is to focus on something more difficult.
3) The hard part, the most difficult thing we need to guard against, is this: the darkness that can happen to our hearts and souls in response to an act of evil like the Orlando shooting.
We’re warned of this in Proverbs.
“Above all else, guard you heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)
And we see how Jesus responded to those who were in opposition to his people, both religiously and politically. The Romans were the occupiers of the nation of Israel during the time of Jesus. During Jesus’ childhood, they erected a golden eagle at the temple. That golden eagle, positioned at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, was a deliberate, egregious, and provocative act against the Jewish religion which forbid such idols. In response, forty young men went to the temple grounds and tore down the Roman golden eagle.
The Romans executed all forty.
There was another occasion when the Romans crucified 2,000 Jewish rebels at one time. (Josephus)
So the Romans, they overtly opposed the faith of the Jews and they killed thousands of Israeli citizens. We won’t even address all the negative rhetoric or the tax burden the Romans imposed on the Israelites. The point is, the Romans ruled over Israel with a heavy hand.
Now imagine with me what that would be like in the United States. A foreign government running the United States of America. A foreign government that was overtly anti-Christian. And a foreign occupying government that killed thousands of U.S. citizens. Imagine that. Imagine the outrage.
Yet this was the backdrop for Jesus. This was the culture he lived in. I think this pervasive outrage against the Romans in Jewish society is often underemphasized. But Jesus responded to Romans, and even Roman soldiers, with grace and love. Jesus healed the paralyzed servant of the Roman Centurion. He praised the faith of that Roman commander. He even said that Roman military leader’s faith was much greater than any Jewish person’s faith. (see Mattthew 8:5-13)
Jesus is living out his own words here:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:43-48)
“Love your enemies,” Jesus said. And “pray for those who persecute you.”
“Above all else, guard your heart,” we’re told in Proverbs.
We do ourselves a huge favor when we live by these words, because dark changes happen to our hearts when we don’t. When we refuse to love our enemies we can fall into a pattern of rumination about the hurt inflicted. When we refuse to love our enemies it’s actually harder to think clearly, and our memory is negatively affected. When we refuse to love our enemies we can find ourselves taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. When we refuse to love our enemies other negative emotions are amplified, and it becomes harder to love even those around us who had nothing to do with whatever it is we’re not forgiving. The damage caused by refusing to love our enemies is proportional to the intensity of our moral outrage, and it’s real.
Not loving our enemy darkens our own soul. It damages our heart from which our personality flows. That moral outrage might feel good in the moment, but the damage it does to us just isn’t worth it.
So pray for the victims of the evil in Orlando.
But pray for the family of the shooter too, even if they’re your enemy.
References and Resources:
G. Goldberg, Josephus, Causes of the War Against the Romans
Brant Hansen, Unoffendable, Thomas Nelson, 2015
Karl Vaters, 5 Dumb Things Christians Must Stop Saying When Evil Strikes, Christianity Today, 6/13/2016
Image via Wikimedia Commons