This afternoon, in the midst of the busy holiday shopping season, in the largest shopping mall in Omaha, an individual opened fire upon those who were in Von Maur. At this point it is too early to estimate fatalities, some reports are saying 2, others 7. Witnesses state that they heard two sets of shooting flurries each including about 20-30 rounds.
This mall, the Westroads Mall, is about 2 miles from my house. This is very much in my backyard, in the city that I have come to love. I learned recently that some of my friends were in the mall at the time of the shooting. My wife typically enters through Von Maur as she goes and does her shopping (as she did yesterday). So from a personal standpoint this is close to home.
So as I write this the authorities are tallying the dead, notifying families, and apparently still trying to catch the shooter. I ask myself the question that both the Christian and the non-Christian are asking; “Why did this happen?”
First and foremost an event like this is a heart wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40-50 times is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.
Secondly tragedy like this makes us look away from superficial hope and ask if we have anything that can outlast a bullet. What do you cling to as you scurry frantically to a dressing room in a department store when a psycho is chasing you? The gunman appears sovereign, what do you do?
Judging from the gut-wrenching testimonies of those who were trapped in the various cubby holes of the mall trying to evade the mad-man today there were very few answers, only questions. It is a tragedy like the one today in Omaha’s Westroads Mall that should force all people to examine the source and power of their hope, because when it matters hope in hope is as futile as hope in yourself. At a time of calamity you need Sovereign Goodness.
Yes sin is devastating; death is relentless. And if you and I do not have a true sovereign that can defeat such things with certainty then we are ourselves hopeless. But there is one who is just this sovereign and just this good. The Scripture tells us of Jesus who himself being God became a man with the expressed purpose of defeating death by disarming sin of its power. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most high God, who is Sovereign and good, and able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. The Scripture says he was “declared the Son of God with power” (Rom. 1.4). His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.
One day there was a tragedy with a similar story as the one that we have today. Many folks died and the people questioned how they should react to it. Jesus answers was amazingly short and profound. He said, “Unless you repent you too will perish” (Luke 13.3).
This is the message in this tragedy. Yes this is horrible. Yes it hurts. But, the greater tragedy is to turn away from such things without repenting, or turning from sin. Tragedies such as this become a merciful divine declaration that God is angry with sin. To make it personal, God is angry with us. I do not deserve to live one second in rebellion from him, much less enjoy this world that he made. Days like today remind us that we need to turn from sinful rebellion and bow before Jesus Christ as the glorious king of heaven and the savior of the world. For it is Jesus Christ alone who has the power to defeat death and provide hope. Yes Jesus Christ is the only one to conquer death and rise from the dead. Jesus Christ is the only one who declares that if you believe in him you will never see death (Jn. 8.51).
Do you see how powerful these words are on a day like today?
If you are not trusting in Jesus this very hour for your standing of forgiveness before the righteous and holy judge of heaven and earth then this tragedy is a gracious gift of God whereby he says to you, “Repent, or you too will perish!” Yes this is the ultimate tragedy. There is one who has defeated death, he can give hope, he gives life; his name is Jesus. To reject him is a tragedy. For it is Jesus who says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10.28)
It is my prayer that through a tragedy like this Christians would cling harder to the grace that they are given to behold and believe in Christ, and in this clinging we might ever increase in our savoring of his sufficiency.
And if you are not a Christian, I pray that God would use such a tragedy to cause you to look away from yourself for hope, see your sin, and find Christ to be infinitely precious and beautiful to your sin-ladened conscience. It is in this looking away from yourself and looking unto Christ that you find hope; hope in his sufficiency and in his glorious defeat of death through his death and resurrection.
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