Today I’d like to share an article by my friend Gordon Myers. He said it better than I could have:
The news is inundated with reports about the recent school shooting in Connecticut, where it appears a young man with mental health challenges killed many innocent children, some school faculty, and himself. The president gave a speech yesterday, and had to pause in the middle of it because he started to tear up. I thought his remarks were helpful, encouraging, and I particularly loved that he closed by quoting Scripture.
Simply, there is no answer to the question, “Why?”, and so I will not attempt to talk about the “why” behind this. But I would like to write today about what we can do. These sorts of situations leave people feeling helpless, powerless, and afraid. I do not believe that more fear is the antidote needed in our lives. So rather than echoing the fears that are justifiably being echoed across the country, I want to share a few ideas that I find helpful, beginning with an incident where a “school shooting” in New Hampshire was successfully averted.
I am a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist. I believe in one God, and Jesus as the promised Messiah. My church was founded in the late 1800s by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who herself was a devout follower of Christ Jesus. The following is an excerpt from a biography titled The Life of Mary Baker Eddy by Sibyl Wilbur, first published in 1907, and describes an incident when she was little more than 20 years old, the same age as the man responsible for the tragedy yesterday.
While Mary was attending the academy an incident occurred which was long related by old residents of Tilton [New Hampshire]. A lunatic, escaped from the asylum at Concord, invaded the school yard, brandishing a club and terrifying the students who ran shrieking into the house. Mary Baker advanced toward him, and the pupils, peering through the windows, saw him wield the club above her head. Their blood tingled with horror for they expected her to be struck down before their eyes. Not so. She walked straight up to the man and took his disengaged hand. At her request he walked with her to the gate and so, docilely, away. On the following Sunday he reappeared and quietly entered the church. He walked to the Baker pew and stood beside Mary during the hymn singing. Afterwards he allowed himself to be taken in charge without resistance.
This story, from the 1840s, had a very different ending than the one we read about yesterday. They both involved young men with mental health challenges carrying weapons into a school full of many young children. But this story from the 1840s ended with the man voluntarily turning himself before any harm was done. I think everyone can agree that that is the best resolution to these kinds of stories. The reason I believe that story had such a powerful turnaround to it was not because of any special person involved, but because of the power of God’s love, and a fearless obedience to the teachings of Christ Jesus. More on that in a moment. Next, I also want to share a short, one-minute video clip. This scene took place in a courtroom in 2003.
This scene shows part of the trial of Gary Ridgway, known as the “Green River Killer,” a serial killer who confessed to killing 71 young women over the course of two decades. This clip shows Mr. Rule, the father of one of the young victims, speaking to Mr. Ridgway with, remarkably, nothing but unconditional forgiveness, despite the fact that the man he is forgiving murdered his own daughter. The full video goes onto say that, while Mr. Ridgway had seemed emotionless and unaffected by everything else that happened in the trial, especially by the rightful condemnation of the victims’ families, he was clearly and visibly affected by this man’s miraculous sense of forgiveness. Indeed, shortly after hearing these words of forgiveness, Mr. Ridgway - for the first time - confessed to the murders, tearfully. The thing that most struck me in Mr. Rule’s comments was when he said “what God says to do is to forgive.” Again, here is another instance of a transformation made possible by fearless obedience to Christ’s commands. Lastly, I am also reminded of a famous quotation from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where he said this:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
There are many discussions that are taking place and will continue to take place about the recent school shooting – about how to prevent this kind of thing in the future. People will talk about gun control laws, metal detectors in schools, mental health warning signs, and so on. Whatever solutions we come to, I think the most important question, a question that searches deeper than any metal detector ever could, is what motivates our actions? Are we motivated by fear? By a desire to live in a bubble? Or by ostracizing all those who seem scary? Or rather, can we be motivated by the same kind of unconditional love that we see in these examples? These examples prove the power of that kind of fearless love.
I do not believe that the dark shadows of fear, hatred, and ostracization can do very much to calm or comfort people – least of all those already “at risk” with mental health challenges. But the unconditional, agape love that Christ taught and demonstrated does transform lives and characters. That kind of love motivates people to stop short of committing heinous acts in the first place, and motivates people to take responsibility for their own actions. This is the kind of brotherly love that forgives in the face of the worst hardship and pain, the kind of sisterly love that offers to hold someone’s hand and makes a stand for the best in them even when they seem most scary or out of place. This is the kind of Love that recognizes the unity of all mankind, as Malachi puts it: “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” Jesus himself is perhaps the greatest example of this kind of Love and forgiveness, as he was someone wholly innocent who did not hesitate to forgive those attacking him right in the midst of the pain. That forgiveness transformed the world.
As for the innocent children lost, I refuse to believe that God has, even for an instant, stopped cherishing them, nurturing them, protecting them, and holding them dear, as the “apple of His eye, under the shadow of His wings.” I believe that the light of those dear children’s lives continues to shine brightly in the Kingdom, and that nothing can ever extinguish that light. As St. Paul puts it, “I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God.” That beautiful and innocent light may have been obscured from view for most of us yesterday, but as Jesus promised that “the kingdom of God is within you,” I know that those children live on, eternally, within all of our hearts, and within the mind of almighty God, where they are forever kept safe, joyful, and free.