Everyone who woke up Monday to the news of the Las Vegas shooting sifts through the reports looking for the answer to a troubling but elusive question:
What motivates a man to open fire on a crowd of strangers at an outdoor concert, killing at least 59 and injuring more than 500?
When Dylann Roof began shooting people in a church in Charleston two years ago, his statements made it clear that racist bigotry was behind his actions.
When Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six teachers, we eventually realized his actions were tied to his unhealthy mental state.
But when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock took his own life after spraying bullets on a crowd of country music fans, he left us with no explanation.
The motives for this massacre will be the relentless pursuit of news reporters for weeks. They will try to help us understand what seems incomprehensible today. Why? How could anyone do something so horrible?
Satisfactory answers to these questions may never come. In the meantime, Christians can pray for the families and friends of the victims; for the injured and traumatized survivors; and for the first responders, leaders, and pastors in Las Vegas. And before we offer answers, we lament together. We weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
And we also pause to consider the reminders and truths these horrifying events reveal.
Our Times Are in His Hands
When a seemingly random act of violence occurs, it makes all of us a little more anxious about our surroundings. After all, none of those concertgoers was worried about safety. They were having a good time. Then, the bullets.
On any given day, is it possible we could be a victim of a random act of violence? Yes. But Scripture promises nothing will happen to you today that is not permitted by a loving, holy Father.
With confidence King David declared in Psalm 5:11, ”But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them.” And in Psalm 57:1, when he was being hunted by King Saul who wanted him dead, David declared, “In you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”
Of course, the Bible doesn’t give us a guarantee of safety from every kind of harm. But Job 1 teaches us that no harm can touch us that has not first been allowed by God.
The shooting in Las Vegas did not slip past God. Our times are in his hands.
Our Hearts Are Deceitful
A second truth we should remember when events like this occur is that the seeds of this kind of murder are in each of our hearts.
In Matthew 15, Jesus describes our hearts. He said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. . .” He is confirming what the prophet Jeremiah had declared centuries earlier: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
In his book The Lord of the Flies, author William Golding tells the story of what happens when a group of British schoolboys are stranded on an uninhabited island, fighting for survival. These well-mannered young men become barbaric. Their circumstances bring to the surface the murder that was already in their hearts.
The Bible teaches us that the Las Vegas shooter, apart from grace, could have been you. Or me.
Life is Fragile and the Stakes Are Eternal
Massacres and cataclysms are reminders to humans to consider the fragility of life and where they stand with God.
In Luke 13, Jesus is asked about a tragedy that had occurred in his day. His followers were suggesting that when people die in some kind of random act, God is judging them for some kind of hidden sin. Jesus responded by saying, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?”
And then he looked his audience in the eye and said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-3).
No one knows when the day of death will come. But a day of death is ahead for all of us, unless Jesus returns while we are still alive.
And on that day, the greatest tragedy will be for those who have rejected God’s love, mercy, and grace in this life. They will be cut off from his love, mercy, and grace for eternity.
Just as the carnage in Las Vegas should lead us to lament, so too should we lament that death can come to any of us at any time, and not everyone will be ready.
May that sober reality drive us to an urgent boldness in mission, recognizing that the “why” of evil may never be clear, but the hope of the gospel most certainly is.