The Bible calls on Christians to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) but it also tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Its hard sometimes to know exactly how to balance those two commands.
How long do we wait?
How long do we weep?
How long can we afford not to talk about the things that keep happening in our world?
Talking, or in this case writing, is a form of thinking. It is how we organize our feelings and categorize our experiences. Thinking done well results in purer ambitions, better behaviours, more effective boundaries and ideally, a much brighter future for us all.
Towards that end I offer these 7 reflections 7 days after the Florida High School massacre.
1. Family matters
The young man who perpetrated the Florida High School massacre did not enjoy a normal family upbringing. That certainly does not excuse his behavior but it does add some perspective. He was abandoned by his birth parents, adopted by another couple who then each died prematurely in their turn.
That has to mess with a child.
That has to affect their attitude towards God, life, justice and fairness. If a child comes to view the world as fundamentally unfair then some children will act out in violence.
That is wrong.
That is sinful.
But I understand that.
2. Empathy is unavoidably political
To paraphrase a wiser and more enlightened associate, scrolling through your social media feed looking for wisdom is a bit like bobbing for gummy bears in a public toilet. It probably isn’t worth it in the long run.
Facebook was not a useful place in the several days following the Florida High School massacre. The discussion took a quick and unpleasant turn towards the political. Upset children and parents called for better gun control. Upset gun owners called for people to read their constitution.
All in all it was not our finest hour.
And yet my sympathies incline more towards the children and parents. That to me looks like a natural expression of grief. As it says in the Book of Job: “Does the wild donkey bray when he has grass, or the ox low over his fodder?” (Job 6:5 ESV)
Creatures are entitled to their natural reactions. Donkeys bray when they are fed, parents wail when they are bereaved. These reactions are normal and appropriate.
It is not required that such expressions come out in the form of reasonable public policy. It is expected that such expressions will have a note of desperation and irrationality to them – how could they not?
It is the job of politicians – LATER – to take our anguish and to mold it into a passable piece of legislation – it is the job of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters to scream out bloody murder.
So let them.
Never edit the cries of a grieving person.
As a Christian our first response should be empathy. Empathy requires us to enter into another person’s anguish and distress. It requires us to wear another person’s tragedy as if it were our own. It is to think their tortured thoughts and to express their creaturely pain.
Therefore, in the aftermath of a public tragedy empathy is unavoidably political!
Get over it.
Defend your rights some other day.
3. Good government can be a great blessing in a time of tragedy
According to the Bible the main job of the government is to restrain evil and punish evildoers. In Romans 13 Paul says:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3–4 ESV)
According to this passage the government is given certain powers that are not given to the individual and those powers are to be used specifically to punish evil and to reward good. The ruler is supposed to be a terror to those who behave wickedly.
The more evil I see in this world the more appealing this truth becomes to me. Rehabilitation has its place I’m sure, but after an event like the Florida High School massacre vengeance seems far more appropriate. Vengeance is never to be sought by the individual but it ought to be sought by governments. Governments should bear the sword with resolution and purpose. They should use it in cases like this, without apology, to punish the evildoer. I think a lot of parents would sleep better if their government were more frightening to evildoers.
Alongside of that, I think that many parents would sleep better if the government did more to restrain evildoers in the first place, and that takes me to my 4th observation.
4. Idealism is deadly
In the aftermath of the Florida High School massacre, there were many calls from many quarters for more restrictive gun laws in the United States of America. The idea that a 19 year old boy, who is not old enough to drink, is nevertheless old enough to purchase a military style assault rifle, seems to a lot of people to smack of the insane. In most developed countries there is a fairly rigorous screening process that attempts to keep guns out of the hands of evildoers. In most of those same countries there are reasonable restrictions upon the type of guns that can be purchased by non-military civilians. Many people called for some of these restrictions to be adopted by the American government in response to this tragedy.
Many people responded to those calls by pointing out, rightly, that such restrictions were unlikely to completely solve the problem of violence and bloodshed in America. Of course that is true. All solutions are partial in a completely fallen world. The only true solution will be the Return and Reign of Jesus Christ – but until that happens it is the responsibility of government and citizenry to pursue laws that effectively limit the spread of evil and suffering.
Seat belt laws do not eliminate traffic-related fatalities – but they do reduce them and sometimes, in a fallen world, that is just as good as it gets.
We accept this logic in every other sphere of public life – why not here? Why do we reject the call for gun laws simply because gun laws will not completely solve the problem? Sexual assault laws do not completely solve the problem, but we have those. Domestic violence laws do not completely solve the problem, but we have those too – so why not have some partially effective gun laws? Partially effective gun laws might save 1000 lives a year – maybe 5,000 – maybe even 10,000. That wouldn’t completely eliminate the problem, but it would for as many as 20,000 parents.
In a fallen world there are precious few perfect solutions. Sometimes less evil and less suffering are as good as it gets.
5. It’s hard to think beyond the assumptions of your culture
Being a Christian has always required a person to think beyond the assumptions of their culture – and that has always been really hard to do. It was hard for the disciples. They regularly defaulted to the worldview of the culture they had grown up in. In fact there is an entire chapter in Mark’s Gospel that narrates Jesus’ efforts to pull the disciples out of their cultural assumptions and to the new and distinctive thinking that was to characterize the Kingdom of God. R.T. France says about this section:
The dominant emphasis of this next phase of teaching, leading up to the third passion prediction in 10:33-34, is the radical difference between the conventional values hitherto espoused by the disciples (and by the society to which they belong) and the new perspective of the kingdom of God.
Jesus confronted and rebuked their culturally located perspectives on marriage, children, money and leadership. He pointed at the culture and said “it shall not be so among you.” (Mark 10:43) The church only works when it is capable of thinking beyond the assumptions of the host culture.
It’s hard. But its non-negotiable. Because a church that has lost its saltiness “is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13 ESV)
I admit that I respond to these tragedies as a Canadian. As a Canadian I don’t have a history of rebelling against my government. My identity was not forged in the drama of sanctified sedition. My people waited a hundred years and politely asked for independence. It was granted with a minimum of fuss and dislocation. Therefore I don’t lie awake at night preparing for that day when I might be called upon to take down Prime Minister Trudeau. I will wait patiently for election day and cast my ballot and trust the process which was always worked rather well in the past.
That’s how we do it and therefore my mind recoils from any defense of unfettered gun access that revolves around the potential need to dethrone one’s Sovereign. That seems odd to me, but then again, my story is not universal and our perspectives are influenced by our shared history and experience.
I get it.
But I would also contend that all of us must regularly audit our cultural values and presuppositions. All Christians must regularly ask themselves: do I hold this position because it reflects my best reading of Holy Scripture or do I hold it because I am a Canadian or an American or an Australian or an Austrian?
Why do I believe the things I do?
Are my beliefs rational?
Its hard to ask those questions but we have to if we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.
6. Inauthenticity is a killer
The Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson defines authenticity as that mode of Being wherein a person thinks and reasons honestly concerning the consequences of one’s own behavior.
“Did what I want happen? No. Then my aim or my methods were wrong. I still have something to learn.” That is the voice of authenticity.
“Did what I want happen? No. Then the world is unfair. People are jealous, and too stupid to understand. It is the fault of something or someone else.” That is the voice of inauthenticity. It is not too far from there to “they should be stopped” or “they must be hurt” or “they must be destroyed.” Whenever you hear about something incomprehensibly brutal, such ideas have manifested themselves.”
Ever since the fall men and women and 19 year old boys have been blaming all their mistakes on the actions of other people.
“The woman whom you gave to be with me …” (Genesis 3:12 ESV)
“The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13 ESV)
“The teacher who failed me….”
“The coach who cut me…”
“The kids who were mean to me….”
Peterson calls this the voice of inauthenticity. The Bible calls it sin. Left on its own this voice will rot your soul, poison your mind and incite you to violence. That voice has to be stopped before the next Florida High School massacre can be incited.
Which of course leads to my final point of reflection:
7. There are no easy solutions to the problem of human sin
Gun laws will not solve this problem (see reflections 3 and 4).
Metal detectors will not solve this problem.
More police in schools will not solve this problem.
Adam and Eve sinned in a perfect physical environment – the problem was never “out there” it has always been “in here” – the Bible is brutally honest about that fact:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
People are sinful; so sinful that we can’t even see how sinful we are. We need help. We need rescue. We need a solution from outside of ourselves.
We need Jesus.
I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. Only the Gospel – only Jesus – can heal our hurts, remove our shame, restore our minds and return us to God and to ourselves.
He is the ultimate solution.
Preaching the Gospel is the long term solution to the problem of violence, suffering and sin.
There are good things we can and should do while we do the best thing. Most people I know can walk and chew gum and therefore good Christians can and should pray and preach the Gospel while making an argument for good government and reasonable restraints.
That is not the sum of human wisdom on this topic, but it is where I’ve landed after 7 days.
And may God alone be glorified,
Pastor Paul Carter
 I heard Kevin DeYoung say this at T4G – I happily give him all the credit this comment deserves. 🙂
 R.T. France, The Gospel Of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 386.
 Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos (Canada: Penguin Random House, 2018), 214.