Like most of you, I went to bed on Saturday night knowing of and grieving over that day’s tragic events in El Paso. Like most of you, I woke up on Sunday morning to learn of the previous night’s tragic events in Dayton. Like most of you, I’ve spent the last few days trying to discern how I should think, pray, and feel about this…I’ve been trying to discern what I should do.
The issues before us are not simple, nor will their solutions be. The debate over gun control in our country illustrates a deeper conflict between competing worldviews that now defines life in our public square. The prevalence of hatred in our rhetoric, and the real problem of hate-inspired violence, leaves observers feeling more hopeless than hopeful. Finally, the politicization of everything means that these issues are debated in a place and with a posture that seems more focused on scoring political points than actually solving anything.
We need real wisdom from God to know how best to pray and respond to events like these, and to the broader cultural moment we find ourselves in. Yet there are key truths, revealed in Scripture, that we can and should come back to on weeks like this one. These truths, apart from the actions they can inspire and fuel, don’t change everything. But if we are to change anything, we must remember them and live in light of them:
1. Christ’s supremacy is greater than white supremacy. The (apparent) white supremacist motives of the El Paso shooter are deplorable on many levels. They also represent an astonishing level of hubris. Scripture is profoundly clear that Christ, and only Christ, is truly supreme over any one or any thing. Paul reminds the Colossians: [Christ] is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Col 1:18). Any ideology predicated upon one race or class of people being supreme over any other race or class of people neglects one of the defining truths of life and reality: Christ alone is supreme over all.
2. All image bearers are fundamentally equal. No gender, race, class, ethnicity, or other group of people has cornered the market on bearing God’s image. God has gifted all people, equally, with intrinsic worth and value by creating all people, equally, in his image. Therefore any group that asserts its own authority or position over any other group is, wrongly and foolishly, subverting God’s created order.
3. By God’s design, the gospel creates and unifies a multi-ethnic people. White supremacists, by their very ethos, oppose the nature of the church as God has created it. Paul tells the Ephesians that God intended for the church to be a multi-ethnic people, united by the gospel, so that its unity-in-diversity testifies to the manifold wisdom of God (see Eph 3:9-10). Heavenly beings are said to look upon the unity-in-diversity of the church and praise God for his wisdom and power in bringing natural enemies and strangers together in Christ. Furthermore, the picture of the redeemed people of God the apostle John witnesses in Revelation involves people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev 7:9). In other words, white supremacists will really hate heaven. There every ethnic, racial, or other distinction will be real, but insignificant in light of Christ’s glory, as all God’s people worship the Lamb together in perfect peace and unity.
4. Suffering now prepares us for glory later. The pain and grief of these last few days is real. The problems posed by these tragedies and others like them are, also, real. The need for wise, principled, and courageous solutions is real. But Christians can also know that the grief and pain we experience in these moments prepares us, in the mysterious providence of God, for greater glory to come. Paul tells the Corinthians: For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen (2 Cor 4:17-18a). Our trials don’t seem light or momentary when we endure them, of course. It would be unkind to suggest to those suffering in El Paso and Dayton today that their trials are light or momentary. But in light of eternity, all human suffering is. Furthermore, all human suffering now better prepares us for the glory to be revealed to us in the new heavens and new earth. Our capacity for enjoying that perfection in the future grows in the present as we endure heartache and loss. So we can be sure that God is not wasting our pain, even if we don’t ever glimpse its purpose in this life.
What now? Given these truths, what are we to do? How can we respond – to El Paso and Dayton, or to the tragedy around the next corner?
My suggestions aren’t comprehensive, but they are imminently practical. These are things that you and I can do today.
1. Hurt with those who hurt. I know that I am in danger of becoming numb to the heartache involved in tragedies like these. They happen so often, and each is so horrific, that I am becoming de-sensitized to the pain others are feeling. That’s an inhumane tendency that I need to fight, and I can only do that by leaning into the pain and grief others feel. In a crisis like this, if you find yourself thinking more about the policy or political issues involved, and less about the people, then discipline yourself to think about the people. Their pain. Their loss. News outlets publish reports – like this one – detailing what we know about those whose lives were lost or tragically impacted by these events. Read them. Pray over them. Hurt with those who hurt, for their sake and for the sake of your own humanity.
2. Pray for our leaders. While I may appreciate some of his policies and political decisions, I have little appreciation for our president’s communication style as well as some serious reservations about his character and integrity. Having said that, he – and those who lead alongside him in every branch of and level of our government – are in desperate need of our prayers. Paul tells Timothy: I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:1-2). Prayer for our leaders will produce peace and the opportunity for godliness in our lives. Therefore we must, especially in times like this, pray for our leaders.
3. Welcome others well. Finally, and critically: Look for ways to embrace an attitude and posture that is the opposite of a white supremacist’s attitude and posture. On my block, and probably on yours, live people of many skin colors from many nations. I wonder how my non-white neighbors view me, and if they wonder if I share the sentiments of the angry young man who shot and killed so many in ignorant hatred and bigotry on Saturday? I don’t – and it’s up to me to make that clear to them. It is up to me to extend a hand of friendship across racial and ethnic lines. To let them know that I am glad to be their neighbor, and glad for them to be mine. Perhaps this wins a hearing for the gospel? Even if not, it is loving – and right – in a world that is confused about those values right now. Go out of your way to be friendly and welcoming to the people from every tribe and nation who live in your city. Enjoy a foretaste of the diversity of the people of God by embracing the diversity that God has brought to wherever you live. Do it so that others can see that Jesus is real, and that the power of the gospel is really changing you. Do it for the glory of Christ.