What should we learn from the Aurora shootings?

With the horrific news of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., we’re left asking those annoying, answerless questions yet again. My own sons were at a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight” a few hundred miles west of the tragedy that unfolded in Aurora. I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to text them and ask for an ETA. (For the record, parenting teens is almost as sleep-depriving as parenting an infant… maybe worse.) News of the shooting had already reached my social networks, and I felt, as most do, helpless. Even praying feels inconsequential at such times, as we are bombarded with questions we cannot comfortably answer.

What would possess someone to do something so evil? 
Why would someone be so angry with total strangers? 
Can I protect myself, my family, from such senseless violence?

1. The “what” question is relatively simple… Evil exists in the earth, and is actively looking for people to manipulate and control and turn into monsters to do its bidding. Evil is hungry and greedy for victims. All those wounded and killed at the theater that night were victims of evil. And, though we’d rather pin him to the wall as evil incarnate, James Holmes is/was a pawn, nothing more, used by evil to destroy lives, including his own. In that sense, he’s a victim, too.

2. Our world is becoming further and further removed from relationship. While we have more avenues for relationship than ever before, more ways to “connect” with one another, no matter our geographic location, yet many of our relationships are “fair-weather only.” As long as our friends/associates/acquaintances are happy, cheerful, and content in our presence, online or off, that’s good enough for us. But let someone become despondent, angry, or bitter, and we’re quick to distance ourselves. Something was “up” with James Holmes, based on his recent personal history. Even his mother knew something was wrong. Did anyone reach out to him in the past months, or was he just another island unto himself? What if someone had stepped in? What if someone had knocked on his door weeks ago and asked him to go get a pizza, asked him if he was all right? It’s not a guarantee that something could have been avoided or changed, but the “what if” remains.

3. One of the things we won’t hear on the news are the people who opted NOT to go to that particular theater showing that night. We won’t hear about the parents who “had a check” about letting their kids go and made those kids stay home instead. We won’t hear about the people who changed their minds at the last minute, or were somehow delayed and missed the movie. Those testimonies (mostly unreported) are a sobering reminder of the need to be vigilant and on guard, always listening to that still, small voice on the inside as we go about our daily lives. I believe God will warn us, direct us, and show us a way of escape from the evil that is present in the earth, but we have to listen and obey. Sometimes that means changing our plans, sometimes it might mean social embarrassment, or inconvenience, or “missing out,” but I believe direction is available.

Will we “miss it”? Probably. When we let our natural desires override that quiet witness. When we (more commonly) get so busy and are going, going, going so fast we don’t take time to listen. When we start doing things out of obligation, not out of unconditional love. Yet even then, when we miss it, we can look to His mercy and grace to carry us through, providing supernatural comfort and peace in time of need. 

We will move on, and we will heal. That’s part of life. Whether or not we learn anything from this latest round of violence remains to be seen. Will you reach out to that person at work, at school, at church or at the convenience store who seems to be having a hard time? Will you slow down and listen for personal direction about the little things, like going to the movies or the mall or the bar?

All that said, there’s still no guarantee that life will continue into tomorrow for any of us, no matter what we do or don’t do. The actions of others, a rogue wave at sea, a freak storm, a faulty wire, a loose rock on the side of a mountain road, a tsunami… any of the above could spell your unexpected demise. Again, a sobering thought, but also a freeing one. No one can decide where you will spend eternity except YOU. It has nothing to do with religion or labels, and everything to do with Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead on the third day. What do you do with HIM? It’s not about religion or labels or rules, it’s about relationship. With Him.

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