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From the Pastor's Desk

A Response to Too Many Tragedies

Posted by Pastor Stephen Baum on

“How long, O Lord?”

This cry for God's help echoes through the Psalms and the prophets. It is a cry of longing for justice and of pain from the consequences of sins and from the sins of others. Throbbing hearts press these words through the gritted teeth of the grieving to the only one in the entire universe who can actually answer.

On May 14 of this year, an 18-year-old entered a grocery store in a predominantly African-American part of Buffalo, New York and opened fire on customers inside. The assailant live-streamed several minutes of the attack until the platform he was using stopped the feed. A manifesto he published attributed the motive of his own attack to his conviction of white supremacy. His deadly rampage ended the lives of ten beautiful bearers of God’s image—all African-American. Though we have seen horridly too many events like these in our nation in the last quarter century, I was slow to respond until facts could be gathered and I had time to process my thoughts.

Then, on Sunday, May 22, the Sex Abuse Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention (with whom First West cooperates in the funding of global missions efforts) announced the release of a report from an independent investigative firm regarding allegations of mishandling claims of sexual abuse made to members of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee. The nearly 300-page report details credible allegations of sexual abuse by a prominent SBC leader, and a decades-long pattern of mishandling, minimizing, and ignoring claims of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist church members and other leaders. I took about seven hours this weekend reading the report in disgust and frustration. The overarching motivation for dismissing so many claims, as the report documents, was limiting exposure to “ascending and descending liability.” I am not a lawyer, but avoiding legal liability and maintaining plausible deniability is never an acceptable reason for inaction regarding abuse of any kind. By Monday evening, May 23, my heart was sick with grief and heavy with the weight of responsibility for ensuring our church is ready to respond with compassion, real help, and ongoing care for the abused.

Even as I was considering the ramifications of this report, on Tuesday, May 24, another eighteen-year-old took two rifles he purchased the week before, shot his own grandmother, then drove to and entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and began indiscriminately firing bullets at children and staff there. At the end of it all, the shooter was killed by law enforcement, but not before he had killed nineteen children and two teachers. Twenty-two more beautiful bearers of God’s image, the shooter included, brought down in horrific violence. Twenty-two families, irreversibly changed and traumatized, and a community rocked with grief can add their names to the already too long list of survivors of atrocities just like this in our nation’s recent history.

These reports of violent racism, intentional blindness to abuse of the worst imaginable kind, and irrational murderous anger have so many crying out, “How long, O Lord?” How long must we see such disgusting displays of racism? How long must we go on adding names to lists of offenders as we weep with the abused? How long must we go on holding the trembling bodies of grieving parents who have lost their precious children to unconscionable evil? How long, O Lord?

I have never been accused of not having opinions about matters like these. Most of the time, I try to express them appropriately and with submission to what God’s Word has to say about matters like these. And with regard to this recent onslaught of grievous events and revelations I have a good many full-throated words I could say, but I will aim for precision and brevity here.

First, made in the image of God, every human being is worthy of the full dignity, respect, honor, and compassion that this fundamental reality of our creation entails (Gen. 1:26). God hates racism and every form of ethnic superiority in the hearts of mankind and as followers of Jesus Christ who calls us each to love our neighbor as we do ourselves, we should hate it too (Matt. 22:37-40). There is no biblical justification for any kind of racial or ethnic superiority.

Second, sexual abuse is a grievous sin of the most heinous order. Perpetrated against a child or an adult, sexual assault is a hellish perversion of the blessed gift that God has given to a man and a woman to exercise in covenant marriage. It dehumanizes others for the sake of self-gratification. It should sicken us all. The danger of this sin is severe. Jesus warned, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2).

Last, while I cannot speak to the motives of these school shooters, and while there are certainly issues of mental illness at play, I can say that these events are nothing short of demonic in their inspiration. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said (John 10:10). Such crimes perpetrated against the most vulnerable in the places they should be the most safe are totally and utterly satanic in origin. And this is not even to mention the absolute scourge of the abortion industrial complex in our society that destroys defenseless children in the sanctity of their mother’s wombs, which itself has been fueled by damnable lies from hell about the nature of humanity and the pursuit of so-called “bodily autonomy” as an ultimate right.

How long, O Lord?

The truth is none of us knows how long, and in his sovereign wisdom, God has not said. Two things we do know, however. One is the promise that we who know Christ may rest our hearts in the blessed hope of Jesus’s return. On that day he will make all things new, and those who have turned from the cosmos shattering sin of their hearts to embrace Christ as king will be welcomed into this earth made new. He will dwell with us, and we will be his people, and God himself will be with us as our God. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. These former griefs will pass away and we will no longer ask, “How long?”

The other is a knowledge of the only cure for such sickness. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Politicians, law enforcement, legislators, slick tongued preachers, and abuse prevention protocols cannot cure the disease of sin. But Jesus can!

Friend, do you feel the unbearable weight of this dark brokenness? Do you mourn the sinful thoughts of your own heart and the actions it produces? Are you tired from striving for a solution to these and many more ills with no end in sight? I am. May I remind us of Jesus, today? He, the perfect Son of God, took on flesh to live among his own fallen creation. He suffered as we do in a world broken by rebellion against God, though himself never sinning. In his teaching, he pointed people to the reality that we are the problem in the world. He also provided a lasting solution to the problem that is us. That solution is not the eradication of the human race, but the redemption and rescue of human heart from our treason against God. By dying on a cross, unjustly accused and sinfully murdered, Jesus provided the perfect sacrifice for the evil that lurks just below the surface of all our hearts. His sinless life was given as ransom for sinners—and not just the “worst kind” who make headlines, but for all of us, because we are all the “worst kind” of sinners. His death covers the debt of sin we owe to the holy and righteous God. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead in power and glory. By rising, he secured the promise that we too might have new life, abundant life, life in real and redemptive relationship with the God of the universe who long has heard our cries for help. In Christ, he has lavishly answered.

This Jesus beckons us come to him. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We who know Jesus know the divine rest he offers in a torrent of cultural woes. And we who know Jesus have rest and peace to offer such a culture and those who create more waves within it. We have hope for the hopeless, salve for the wounded, grace for sinners, and life for the dying. Until he comes again, Christian, we have much work to do and much good news to offer. Let us get to work.

Knowing all this and working to see the redemption of every soul through faith in Christ, even so we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.