One dark night has spilled over into one dark day with many more to come for the families overwhelmed with grief after a gunman opened fire in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado shortly after midnight this morning. The occasion was the opening of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” As I type it is being reported that 12 people have been killed and 38 wounded. Given the severity of some of the injuries, the death toll is expected to rise.
Understandably, this tragedy has riveted the attention of our nation. Social media is being flooded with commentary and news organizations are scurrying for analysis. And both presidential candidates have seen the wisdom of pulling campaign ads in Colorado for the immediate future.
For those people immediately affected by this horrific event dispassionate analysis is not what is needed. It is not hard to imagine the unspeakable anguish many parents, siblings, extended family, friends, and neighbors are feeling right now. For them this is a time to mourn.
However, for those of us not in this crucible of affliction we have the opportunity to remind one another of timeless truths. And why must we do this? Because one day, in one form or another, we will be the one tested.
What essential truths come to mind for me at this time? Let me list several in brief.
- Life is a vapor. The people who were killed at the movie theatre this morning had every expectation of returning home after the show. They did not. The Apostle James offers a much needed word to those of us who think we’re invincible or are guaranteed a long life: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ —yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (4:13-14). We must remember the story Jesus told about a certain rich man who longed to build bigger barns to hold all his stuff. To this misplaced ambition Jesus says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Perhaps tonight my soul will be required of me. Am I ready to stand before the Judge?
- Sin is real. What causes a person to spray bullets in a movie theatre crowded with men, women, and children? Ultimately, sin. God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, says it plainly: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9). While commentators are scrambling to figure out why someone would do such unfathomable evil, we know the root cause.
- Human beings are responsible. Our sin and what we do as a result of it is our responsibility. We are accountable. This is not to say there are not contributing external factors that move us to say and do particular things. But in the end we will have to give account to God, the One who judges justly, for the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil (Cf., 2 Cor. 5:10).
- God is sovereign. This event did not take God by surprise or catch Him off guard. The absolute ability for God to accomplish all His good pleasure was not thwarted by a crazed gunman. Of course, because God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Isa. 55:9), there is mystery here. But this I know: the One who knows whenever a sparrow falls and the number of hairs on my head and all the billions of stars by name is the One who rides upon this storm. God is in control and is even now relentlessly, unstoppably, triumphantly causing all things to work together for the good of those who love him, those who are called according to His purpose (Cf., Rom. 8:28).
- The cross of Christ is God’s final, triumphant word against evil. In his commentary today Albert Mohler sees through this tragedy and to the cross of Christ when he writes, “We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross.” The cross proclaims God’s holy hatred of sin and judgement on evil. The cross reminds us that there is a divine Judge and that perfect justice will be finally realized. The cross declares that there is coming a day when everything will be made right — a day when evil will be no more. For the cross points to “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:24).
As much as we can let us “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). And for those of us observing this horror from a distance let us go to school on it. For one day the distance from tragedy will be much closer than today.