I was a senior in high school a little less than one month from graduation during the 1999 Columbine shootings. Even far away from Colorado in my small South Dakota school, where the lockers don't even lock, we had a sense that everything would be different from here on. Indeed, metal detectors and lockdown drills have taken their place alongside reading, writing, and arithmetic in schools around the country. Few today question the necessity of these precautions as schools continue to top target lists for killers.
We don't yet know if or how last night's horrid theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado, will change our everyday lives. It's bad enough the murderous act has taken at least 12 lives so far, wounded 59 others, and scarred countless more who loved these men, women, and children who just wanted to see a blockbuster movie on opening night. The dark confines of a theater now seem like a murderously efficient place to conceal a weapon and spread deadly panic. A night at the movies may never be the same.
Before many even awoke to this tragic news from Aurora, reporters and pundits had already searched for blame beyond the alleged shooter, now in custody. What is his political party affiliation? What are his known beliefs? All of us who lived through Columbine and its aftermath well remember this hunt for explanations and scapegoats. Where were the parents? Who bullied the killers? Who is this Marilyn Manson character? Why are first-person shooter games so popular, and how are they affecting our kids' brains and behavior? More than a decade later, bullies still prowl school hallways, parents still struggle to understand teenage boys, and video games and musicians still celebrate violence. We learned a lot about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, but we didn't learn anything new about humanity. Our track record, smeared in blood, speaks for itself.
Now is a time for mourning and comforting the victims. The hunt for blame will not bring the victims back to life. Not even interrogating the alleged killer, while good and necessary, will necessarily result in special insight about the human condition. As President Obama said this morning in Florida in response to the killings, “Even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this.”
Why? And yet, we cry. What could possibly justify such murder? “Such violence, such evil is senseless,” President Obama said. “It's beyond reason.”
Indeed. We think if someone could only answer why—-by finding fault with gun lobbyists, or theater security, or the Tea Party, or Batman—-we might be able to snuff out the source of this violence. Then maybe we'd be safe. But right now, no one can promise you'll be okay tonight if you decide to see The Dark Knight Rises. One Aurora victim even escaped a shooting last month at a Toronto mall, only to die shortly after tweeting friends last night about her excitement for the movie to begin. This might be the scariest thought about this random killing spree, which follows many others in varied settings in countries around the world: Authorities will promise to do everything in their power to ensure our safety. But in the end, no one can guarantee our security.
Our ancestors lived in a world like this. At any moment they might succumb to a disease no one yet understood. Or become collateral damage in a war they didn't start. Or suffer starvation when the skies withheld their rain. The patriarchs of the Old Testament lived in such a world. So did the apostles of the New Testament. So did Jesus.
Not even the Son of God escaped gruesome, torturous death. He lived in a world where religious leaders conspired with political tyrants to kill so-called enemies who made the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor rejoice over good news (Matt. 11:5). He was not safe and secure in this world. In fact, he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20).
And yet this man, not even welcome in his hometown (Luke 4:24), could point to those same birds of the air and see reason to trust in our heavenly Father, who feeds them, “who neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn” (Luke 12:24). So when his season of sorrow approached, when one of his closest friends handed him over to evil men, he could say to his heavenly Father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Jesus knew exactly who to blame for his impending execution. He stared into the faces of the chief priests and scribes who sought his death. He answered to Pilate, who signed his death sentence. And yet, when he looked out on these murderers from the excruciating elevation of the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
No cry of why will satisfy our search for a reasonable explanation to the horrors of this age. But the God-man who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” comforts us in our grief (Matt. 27:46). Even more, his unjust death and ultimate triumph in resurrection is the very means by which we can begin even now to enjoy never-ending peace with the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).
Jesus had no illusions about why the nations rage. They rage in their sin, against their God, going so far as to put God in human flesh to death. But such evil plots in vain, because the ascended Jesus promises to return in justice. He will hold his and the Aurora movie theater's murderers to account. And he will usher in the safety and security of the new heavens and new earth for all who believe in him.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).