Tragedy in Omaha

This Wednesday the city of Omaha experienced a tragedy: a troubled young man decided to take his own life and make a name for himself by killing eight other human beings in the process. In some sense this is like September 11 over again for our city. It still dominates news coverage, and will change the way a generation understands life here.

How do we respond to such a tragedy? Our first responses are human. We are shocked and horrified. Later horror and disbelief gave way to understanding and tears. By this point we are hearing the names of those who died and more details about the incident, and we are incredibly saddened by the reality of what took place. There is some need to respond to an event of this proportion in theological perspective. I saw the lack of composure or knowing what to say in the news people. I heard people say this murderer was a “good” kid. I heard the mayor talk about the “innocent” people that perished. We all have reacted and are reacting: part of our reaction should include theological reality.

We have biblical examples of sudden death and human tragedy in Luke 13. It seems from Christ’s response that His audience thought these had died because they were more sinful than most. Judging by media reports and popular reaction, some in Omaha see those who died at Westroads Mall as better people and less worthy of their fate than most. Either way one might respond, Christ’s answer was this: every sinner deserves only to die, and unless you and I repent from our sins the same fate awaits us. In other words, no one is special and no one is going to escape apart from God’s grace. Today is the day for you and I to turn from our sin to Jesus!

Prior to the shooting, I had set aside this week’s passage for Sunday School: 1 Peter 4:7-11. For me God has provided a potent reminder and a powerful call through this shooting; we do indeed live in serious times, and our end may be nearer than we would like to think. Peter gives several directives that provide a uniquely Christian response to serious times: carefully pray, fervently love, and readily give.

Beyond the general theme of repentance and a uniquely Christian response, at least two themes are recurring throughout the aftermath of the Westroads Mall shooting.

Surprise: It is incredibly difficult when we are surprised, particularly this type of surprise. Our immediate response is simple, “No one deserves this.” A simple shopping trip shouldn’t be a matter of life and death. There is truth in all this, but in the end every moment is a gift from God and we have no right to expect anything more. Jesus was deadly serious when He said to not worry about tomorrow, because today’s evil is more than enough.

Innocence: Were those who died deserving of being shot simply for working or shopping at a mall? Absolutely not. This is a horrific event, and a terrible reminder of the high price of sin. But let us not fall so easily into the theological error that we are innocent. No human being alive today is innocent of the blood of Jesus. No human being alive today is free from the curse of Adam’s sin. The One who was innocent and spotless we killed on a tree two thousand years ago.

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