Virginia Tech: Somebody, PLEASE, Say Something Meaningful!

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.


Leave a Comment

  1. Thanks Bob,

    I forwarded this to the folks I work with on the worship team today. It’s nice to hear a holistic explanation/response instead of the “trying to make us all feel good about ourselves and angry towards the evil-doers” stuff we usually get.


  2. Well said, Bob! Unfortunately, people are so worried about not offending someone that they say nothing worth while at all. I doubt many people left the convocation with any real sense of comfort, except perhaps the comfort of mutual identity and suffering that comes from grieving with others.

    While surfing the web I came across this article from Time that talks about the mind of a mass murderer. You can read it here:,8599,1612368,00.html?cnn=yes
    While reading the article it really took me back to your sermon on depravity and how each and every one of us is capable of such disturbing and disgusting behavior. Do you think that would apply in this situation?

  3. Yep… the only difference between you, me, and the killer is that the seeds of evil in his heart were watered and fertilized in a more destructive way. As Derek Webb says, “I’m crooked deep down.”

  4. “The issue of faith is not believing the gospel when nothing makes sense; it’s believing that the gospel makes sense of things.”

    – Walker

    This quote from a while ago finally makes sense. The gospel is the only thing in the world that makes sense of this thing. I remember watching “Bowling for Columbine” and leaving the theater thinking, “Why the heck does this happen?” and just like the movie intended, I was left with no answer. Video games aren’t the problem, TV violence isn’t the problem, rock music isn’t the problem. In a Donald Miller book I am reading he tells a story about when Larry King asked Billy Graham what was wrong with the world shortly after the Columbine shooting. His response was, “Thousands of years ago, a young couple lived in a garden called Eden, and God placed a tree in the Garden and told them not to eat from the tree…” Maybe we should redirect Kevin and JD’s flight home to Blacksburg, they need some good theology.

  5. In the interests of accuracy, I notice that you seem to equate Hinduism and Buddhism in the fourth paragraph. I don’t think this was your intent, but you should probably correct that.

  6. Staring into the gaping maw of such horrific grief leaves humanity speechless, yet grappling…pleading… for some kind of verbage to stop up the gush of agony. I have come to dispise the question “Why?”…we know the answer is found in the Gospel but it is a medicine that although brings healing and wholeness, does not anesthetize our pain – the agony is part of the healing. In the initial shock of grief it is difficult, maybe, sometimes even inappropriate to bring such stark truth…I don’t know…maybe I have been in the trenches too long of late…but, sadly, I “get” the inadequacy of those watered down speeches. I pray that somehow, some way, God’s Holy Spirit will use those words to nudge His called farther down the path to Jesus. Cindy

  7. Mmm… Yes, Cindy, thank you for your wise perspective. Words are inadequate.

    To all who share some of Cindy’s despising of the “why”: My goal in this post was not to imply that the right answers heal pain, nor to minimize the reality of the pain and anguish of a tragedy like this.

    Quite simply, I am the kind of person that cannot process emotion without THINKING about it. I realize not everyone is this way, and some just want space and quiet to mourn. May God grant it. But for many who are like me, the lack of any meaningful context for such tragedy is perhaps more agonizing than the bare existence of tragedy itself. When I hear those who would purport to heal the soul speak lofty words without a meaningful “grid”… my heart breaks. It breaks for those who are left to mourn in confusion, and it breaks for the dishonor such words are to my Savior Jesus, who bled and died to give context and meaning to suffering.

  8. I was listening to a talk show a couple days ago that started relating the Virginia Tech shooting to the Columbine shooting. It was utterly disheartened to hear them link the motive to things of this world, such as, all the shooters played “Doom” (popular violent video game), they didn’t socialize much, and all had possible mental disorders. I am sad that media spends the time trying to find someone/thing to point the finger. In this case they have pointed the finger at the shooter and the school and protected the parents and society. They seem to consistently give reasons why the parents aren’t at fault and they give even more reasons why this is directly Cho Seung-Hui’s fault. The whole time they rarely uncover the fact that this is a by-product of what parents and our society produces. Most importantly this is what happens when a soul looses the touch of its purpose. It is by God’s grace that he has shown me the love and purpose for my being. Without that grace I would have committed much worst crimes then Cho Seung-Hui. I just pray that we stop looking around for the answers of why this has happened and we fall to our knees to ask God “how have I caused this”.

  9. I like your words Tyler. Get me thinking. How have I caused this? Lack of prayer. Lack of belief that the Gospel can prevent things like this and transform hearts before people manifest their sin in such horrific ways. How have I caused this? Not caring about the students that I teach. Not caring about the outcasts like Christ would have. I have caused this by being a me-centered self-seeking individualist. (Isn’t that what ya called me this morning Will? I can’t remember the exact phrase.)

Leave a Reply