In the aftermath of this week’s campus shooting at Virginia Tech University, I have been utterly intrigued by the inability of most religious leaders (at least the ones I’ve seen) to say anything meaningful about the tragedy.
On Tuesday, I listened on the radio to the convocation held on campus. In standard pluralistic fashion, four “religious leaders” were paraded before the audience to offer words of spiritual wisdom and comfort. I daresay their words offered little of either.
The Muslim representative (who, interestingly, was a professor at the university, not a clergyman/imam) quoted the Qu’ran in Arabic and offered the sober reminder that death awaits us all. He reiterated the phrase: “To Allah we belong, and to him is our return.” While this certainly parallels the Bible’s teaching (see Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and Hebrews 9:27), it does little to offer comfort in a time of tragedy.
Next came a Buddhist woman, who explained the senseless tragedy by saying that she believes every human being is innately good. I am not sure how that anthropology accounts for a guy ruthlessly killing 32 people. And, since Buddhism’s highest state of enlightenment includes rising above suffering, this worldview doesn’t seem to have much to say to those who suffer deeply.
The next religious leader, a Jewish woman, quoted Ecclesiastes 3, reminding us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under heaven.” If she was intending to bring comfort by insinuating that “a time for everything” includes “a time for senseless violence,” then I (and the Bible) disagree with her.
The final speaker, a (liberal) Lutheran minister, suggested that we can overcome evil with love. He neglected, of course, to root that love in the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross and the redemption of lost sinners, thereby leaving no explanation for how people who are capable of love are also capable of murder.
In the final analysis, all four of these religious representatives said nothing of great value. Which isn’t surprising. In times of great tragedy, the biblical worldview stands alone as the only one which can offer both meaning and hope.
CREATION: Human beings are created in the image of God. Therefore, the murder of 32 people is deeply tragic and unjust, not just because “they were innocent victims,” but because they bear the image of God and therefore have immense dignity and value and worth. It is not their innocence that makes their death tragic, for in the final analysis, none of us are truly innocent (Ecclesiastes 7:20). It is the inherent value of human beings as image-bearers of God that makes the taking of human life a sin of epic proportions.
FALL: Sin has bent and corrupted and twisted our world beyond imagination. Sin has defaced and deformed the world to the extent that humans who bear the image of God are capable of tremendous horror and evil. Without the Fall, we have no category to explain the actions of Cho Seung-Hui (the shooter). In light of the Fall, his actions are not random or unexplainable, but simply the manifestation of the deeply twisted sinful nature that resides at the core of humans… you and me included.
REDEMPTION: Jesus Christ died for sinners. He suffered injustice, as did those who died last Monday. But unlike them, he was totally sinless. He went to his grave forgiving his enemies and rose from the dead triumphing over evil and sin. Through union with Christ, we are forgiven for our great debt of sin, and we are able to forgive our debtors – even those who sin grievously against us. Because Jesus is Lord, we await the final consummation of his glorious kingdom, where he will reign as the Prince of Peace and where evil and sin and grievous violence will be no more. Jesus does not guarantee us that the current world will be free of mass murder. But he does guarantee us the hope of final victory and the power of current redemption to love our enemies as ourselves.
I only wish someone had said these things to the students at Virginia Tech on Tuesday. For in times when we feel both death and life, pain and hope, anger and love, only the cross of Jesus Christ and the biblical storyline of Creation-Fall-Redemption have anything meaningful to say.