This past Sunday, a small community of followers of Jesus in Sutherland Springs, Texas came together for their weekly gathering to pray, worship God, fellowship with one another, and hear God’s Word proclaimed. But as we know, this seemingly routine Sunday service was cruelly interrupted by a gunman who killed (as of the time of this writing) 26 people and injured twenty more. This is an unspeakable tragedy that breaks our hearts, due to the brutality of the crime, the tragic loss of so many people, and the way this has affected the Body of Christ. Though we don’t know the people killed or those who are left to face unspeakable pain, they are our brothers and sisters, and so we mourn those who are lost and we cry with those who grieve.
In the face of such a tragedy, it is natural for us to ask: “Why did this happen?” We want to make sense of this tragedy, to come to understand what could motivate a person to commit such a wicked act, and to know what could have been done to prevent this horrific event. Undoubtedly, as the investigation proceeds, details will come out about the shooter: about his relationship to his family, his personal life and challenges, and his past. Through this, some dots will be connected and some explanations will be offered. But ultimately these explanations will not bring us satisfaction, will not provide us with an explanation that makes sense of the tragedy. Ultimately, our desire for a satisfying answer to the question “why?” will not be fulfilled.
There is a reason for this: Evil is not something that can be explained. By its very nature, evil is inexplicable. Evil doesn’t follow logical, rational rules. Evil cannot be clearly defined, adequately described, or logically explained, because evil isn’t logical. Evil is an irrational force of destruction that follows its own purposes and meaning, which don’t line up with “what makes sense.” As we find out more about the shooter we will get some answers, but each one will lead us to ask, “ok, but…why?” And we will fail to get the answer to that question because evil does not operate in a way that can be explained with an answer to “why?”
So, what do we do when we see the sheer inexplicable nature of evil so violently enacted in Sutherland Springs? What do we do, as followers of Jesus, when evil strikes at humanity, and, in this case, in a church? As the Body of Christ, we continue, in the face of tragic and destructive evil, to be witnesses to Christ’s Peaceable Kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we should not be surprised when evil inflicts its deadly wounds. Saddened, yes. Angry, yes. But not surprised. In John 10:10 we are told that Satan, the Prince of Evil, “comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.” And in 1 Peter 5:8-9, the church is told: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” There is nothing in the Scriptures that tell us that we are outside the reach of evil. We have no assurances that we will be shielded from the effects of wickedness. Our task is not to make sense of evil, nor are we to be surprised when evil touches the Body of Christ.
But we do have a task: As the Church, we are called to be a people who demonstrate to the world that we have hope in the face of evil, and so are called to be a people of peace who do not seek revenge but entrust ourselves to God for His justice, and live with confidence in God’s Word of promise that one day evil will be destroyed. In this day, in the time in which we live, we give ourselves to the work of promoting peace, true peace, God’s peace, in the world by rejecting the instruments of violence that so often cause destruction. We reject the violence of evil as we live according to the vision of Jesus. We are called to accept our difficult, but Spirit-given, calling to model to the nations a community of women and men, children and adults, of all societies and all races who are bound together through Jesus Christ and who live together in peace, seek peace in the world, and do so in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
And, we pray: “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, to establish your Kingdom of Peace. Amen”