There is a popular worship song sung in many churches today about the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God, that he would leave the ninety-nine to search for the one, based on an example Jesus uses in Matthew 18. From that story, is very easy to draw a correlation to grieving the loss of the one. According to another passage in 2nd. Peter, it’s not God’s plan that any person should perish, mortally or eternally.
This has been yet another violent week of senseless homicides. Three more mass shootings, bringing the year-to-date total of such shootings to nearly 250, depending on your definition of “mass”. And as is usually the case after senseless and unexplainable tragedies like this, social media begins to buzz about all the culprits, bad guns, bad video games, bad drugs, bad parenting, etc., etc.. Gun control advocates bang the drum for tighter gun laws while gun owners defend their rights to possess anti-aircraft weaponry. Left-wing vs. right wing, race against race, all claiming a stake at the expense of the yet-to-be-buried victims. It is an unfortunate scene that plays out continually with no solution, just a lot of divisional blame.
These mass shooting victims are given much publicity, perhaps rightly so. Seems like in each case we are given the names of all involved, their photos so we can put a face with a name, and even their background stories. I know this to be true as I reside in Las Vegas and I visited the numerous memorials after the mass shooting here on 1 October that claimed 58 lives at a music festival. Anytime multiple deaths occur in a violent or tragic act, media is quick to cover the story and sensationalize it for ratings or for certain social or political agendas. But what about the everyday homicides that go largely unreported nationally whose names and images are never shown? Are they any less important because they died alone and not with many?
In 2018 there were in the U.S. approximate 40,000 deaths due to guns. Nearly two thirds were victims of suicide while about 15,000 were victims of homicide. A drug deal gone bad, a home invasion, a road rage incident. The same year about 350 people were victims of mass shootings, defined as three or more victims of one incident. For that year mass murder victims represented only a little over 2% of all murder victims by gunfire. The more recent shootings are being described as Hate crimes. But in essence, aren’t all murders considered hate crimes? Why else would a person be so compelled to snuff out the life of another for any reason other than hate? I’m quite certain that my assessment will be misinterpreted unfairly, but each and every victim of violence is a mother or a father, a spouse, a child, a relative who leaves behind a grieving family whose hearts have been ripped out by senseless cowardice, hate and evil. It matters little whether they lost their loved ones in a lone act or a mass shooting. The pain is the same, the loss is immeasurable and the tears, though not seen on a national platform are just as real.
Jesus gave us a glimpse into his humanity as he stood at the grave of his good friend Lazarus. In the shortest recorded verse in the Bible, we are told Jesus Wept. He knew that through his Father he had the power of life and death in his hands and at his command, and he delayed his visit just so he could put that power on display when he raised Lazarus from days of death. And yet he wept. It is recorded that many were there at the grave mourning, including his friends Mary and Martha. Jesus saw their tears and was deeply moved with sorrow and compassion for them. In my days working for a mortuary in Indiana I can tell you that when you are with people who are grieving, it is very easy to feel moved yourself, even though you never knew their loved one, simply because you can feel their pain. Jesus, in his humanity, must have felt the same. If then, we believe that he never changes, surely he is just as moved at the death of a sole teen in Chicago as he is with the 23 in in a Walmart. In our bickering, our blame throwing and our side-taking after such events, we must not lose sight of that fact. Surely God mourns the one as much as he does the ninety-nine.
We live in a world where hate exists. It can’t be denied or ignored. Whether that hate is motivated by race or theology or ideology or social status, innocent bystanders on all sides are going to be lumped into subgroups, being deemed guilty by association, having their individual uniqueness totally disregarded. There is a heavy spirit of unrest in our country as factions always present before, become more agitated and aggressive. It is in these times that we in the faith must be careful not to get caught up in this era of hate, but instead put into practice love, peace, and inclusiveness. If the body of Christ becomes divided or splintered over differences to the point that individual character is no longer considered or defended, then the great falling away described in scripture will be a much easier tack for the dark spiritual forces playing us like grand puppeteers. We must cut the strings of hate that control us and allow God’s love, hope and peace to be forefront in our lives, our communities and yes, even our churches. Don’t get so caught up arguing over 2% and totally disregard the 98% unmentioned but who bring the same tears to our Heavenly Father. It’s not his will that even one should die.