Almost 19 years ago, I was shocked to hear about a shooting at Columbine High School, and it changed the trajectory of my life. Many hours of my life since have been spent reflecting on what happened that Tuesday morning.
It was a place I had never heard, not so different from Parkland, Florida. Back then, just like today much of the attention and conversation was on guns and gun control. Back then, as today, most of the reporters and news channels were scurrying to get the most dramatic accounts on the screen so we could feel the fear of the victims and the anguish of the parents.
While our hearts break for the families and friends of the victims and while we pray for the students who will go back to class next week wondering if it will happen again, we are still looking for the answer to the question: “What would motivate someone to do this?” (We don't want to make sense of it, because there is no sense in this sort of violence. But we want to understand it in order to prevent it from ever happening again.) I believe the answer is right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.
It’s important to have conversations about guns and what boundaries we should have. It’s important to talk about mental health and the effects of drugs on our mental state. But I'm no politician nor a health professional. As a pastor, I believe it is important to talk about the things closer to home. The motives of our heart.
Anger and hate are powerful motivators. While we do not know exactly motivated the young man in yesterday’s tragic shooting, it is safe to assume that there is a degree of anger and hate present. The reality is, anger and hate, fueled by years of bullying, judgement, rejection, or exploitation when left unrestrained will always lead to destruction. Can such a runaway train be restrained?
I believe it can. For centuries, people have judged and bullied, rejected and taken advantage of others, but what proved to restrain us from committing atrocities like those that we saw yesterday in Parkland or Columbine some 19 years ago? It's not that we didn't have the ability to pull it off. When I was in school, I would be willing to bet that at least half the cars in the parking lot held a gun of some sort. But what was different?
In the past, it was a healthy fear of God expressed in a shared morality. That was all there was to prevent us from acting on our most carnal impulses. Self-control.
But today, we are entering a season where "I define myself," "I get to decide what is right," "I decide how to express my emotions." Self-control has taken a back seat to self-determination.
I believe this trade-off is exactly what leads people to act out of unrestrained evil.
I know many of my friends will not want me to talk more about our need to stop living for self-fulfillment and choose instead self-surrender. In fact, I believe that it is in self-surrender that we find the fulfillment that we had longed for, because fulfillment cannot be grasped, it must be given.
So, let us keep talking about guns, mental health, gun control, drugs and medication. I will continue trying to turn the conversation back to our need for faith in a God that calls us to surrender our lives in order to live. Then we will discover “the secret to life is to die before you die.”
Jesus said this: “Satan, your enemy came to kill, steal, and destroy. I have come that you may have life, life in its fullest.”