Best as I can tell, I was just returning home from a prayer meeting at our own church when a man opened fire in a similar prayer meeting within a similar church 975 miles to our southwest in Charleston, SC. At approximately 9PM, a young man who was welcomed into their fellowship and participated in their prayers for more than an hour suddenly stood, spoke a few words and killed 9 godly men and women at Emanuel AME Church. This tragedy has left many, including myself, with questions that are not easy to answer.
- What would cause someone to come into a church, of all places, and do such an awful thing?
- Is there no place where God’s people can feel safe?
- Why didn’t God protect His children from such a terrible crime?
- Could this happen here?
- Is this simply the beginning of the end?
I cannot answer these questions, other than to repeat God’s words to Isaiah: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa.55:9).” It would be a fool’s errand to try and comprehend the ways and thoughts of the Lord.
While I cannot answer the bigger questions relating to the interaction between God’s sovereignty and the human will, I can state a few things that I know. I know that God’s plans are not thwarted by the gunshots of a 21 year-old. I know that every one of us lives with our days numbered by God’s providence. I know that we ought to live each day as if it were our last and keep short accounts with God and those around us – saying “I am sorry” and “I love you” while we can. Nowhere in scripture are we promised an earthly tomorrow; instead we are told to make the most of today.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:14
And while we do not have answers to the big questions, there are things that we can learn from this utter tragedy.
First, be prepared – we cannot, thankfully, know the day or manner of our earthly demise and therefore we must live in the present reality that it could be today. Is there something you need to say or do before it is too late? Have you bowed before God and sought His forgiveness, confessing and professing Him as Lord and Savior? Have you shared your missteps and insights with someone so that the lessons of your life will have lasting impact?
Second, be empowered – we must live with a sense of urgency and risk (not recklessness, which is quite different, but I haven’t time to share that today). Live today with the bravery and courage that would enable you to welcome the stranger, comfort the troubled, confront the oppressor and love the lost. Live out the teaching of Hebrews 3:13 and “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Perhaps, the lasting legacy of those saints who entered into God’s glory last Wednesday was that they were able to pray with and for this man with a heart of darkness for an hour, not concerned for their own futures but for his.