At roughly 11:20 AM on Sunday, November 5th, 26-year-old Devin Patrick entered Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He wore black clothing, a ballistic vest, and a face mask, and he carried an AR-15 assault rifle. When he left several minutes later, twenty-six people were dead or dying, and twenty more were injured.
The scale of the destruction was vast, one of the five deadliest shootings in American history. Texas Governor Greg Abbott named it the worst mass murder in the history of Texas. President Trump called the events “horrific.” For a brief moment, the world took pause and looked to a small town in Texas with shock, horror, and pity.
For a brief moment. Seriously – since when have you thought of it? The next Sunday, certainly (I sure did), but when after? And how about the deadlier Las Vegas shooting a month before? Or the massacre in Orlando that claimed forty-nine lives and took place just this summer?
We tend not to think much about everyday life – breakfast is (hopefully) a matter of course, the same thing for school and church. The things we do think about are out of the ordinary – a birthday party, a major holiday, a family vacation. We dedicate weeks, even months to these events simply because they don’t happen all the time. When a mass murder, such as the ones in Las Vegas or Texas, occurs, we tend not to think of it for more than a few days. They’re commonplace, not just in the U.S., but around the world as well.
We’ve become a culture of complacency. Loss of life no longer bothers us. No, we weren’t happy when we heard a pastor lost his kid, but nor did it truly move us. We didn’t rejoice when forty-nine homosexuals lost their lives in Orlando, but again, we didn’t ruminate on the tragedy.
And that shows something about us: we’ve adopted a dismal outlook on life. Today, it’s a known fact that despite iPhones and satellite TV, the younger generation will enjoy a lower quality of life than their parents – for the first time ever in the “Land of Opportunity.” Today, we accept mass murders and school shootings as a matter of course – it’s just going to happen, we rationalize. Nothing much to see here.
What’s more, we’ve become a culture of denial – a denial of personal responsibility, a denial of evil itself. Since when, for example, has the United States fought a perfectly sane, mentally stable enemy? Hitler was a madman, the Soviets were insane, Saddam Hussein was a lunatic, so were bin Laden and Gaddafi, and don’t forget “Little Rocket Man” – that guy’s a certifiable nut. While it’s fun (in a perverse sort of way) to call our enemies and detractors loonies, it’s actually a statement about our thoughts on the nature of man – they are insane, we are not; this is because our way is true and good and any rational person would accept it. It’s not their fault they’re insane, therefore, it really isn’t their fault if they disagree with us. Freudian psychoanalysis at its finest.
In the same vein, we’ve denied the evil within us as well. While I don’t doubt that many, if not most, shooters are deranged people, we automatically assume that’s the only way someone could commit such as crime. We leave no room for personal responsibility; we revise the problem of good versus evil into a simple, two-word phrase: mental illness. Only mentally ill people can kill others; only mentally ill people can succumb to hate; only mentally ill people are “socially aberrant.”
Now I doubt most of you actually believe that, but that’s the subtext. And it goes hand-in-hand with the culture of complacency. We refuse to accept visceral reality: when dozens of people die, it isn’t a national moment of soul-searching. It isn’t a period of grappling with the problems of evil or pain. It’s merely chalked up to external factors and left to rot in the dust heap of history.
Every Christian essay on pain and suffering somewhere finds its way to Job, and so does this one. Job dealt with more tragedy than any other human alive, and his agony was multiplied by his prior greatness. What’s more, Job dealt directly with evil itself – it was Satan who plagued him with theft, disease, and murder. And granted that modern science was unknown in the second millennium B.C., Job didn’t chalk his problems up to germs or bad weather or somebody having a bad day, he immediately looked to the supernatural. Monsoons, microbes, and the whims of men didn’t ruin Job – it was something far darker and more potent.
Those twenty-six men, women, and children killed about a month ago cannot come back to us – they are alive right now, truly alive, in heaven with the Lord. But in their deaths, as well as the deaths of others, we must push past the complacency and denial that plagues our culture. We need to accept evil for what it is – evil, and we need to mourn the fall of man and cry out for the hope of the coming King.