I have waited many hours before even beginning to write down my thoughts and feelings regarding yesterday's atrocious murders on the campus of Virginia Tech. Yesterday was a very odd day for me. I was personally laid up in bed with illness, unable to do much of anything. I prayed quite a bit, fielding phone calls from friends, listened to voice messages from many more, and refreshed my web browser often to see the latest news. Many of you may not know that Kasey and I spent some six years in Blacksburg, a place that we still consider in many ways "our home." We had several miscarriages there, had our first two children there, connected deeply with the local church there, ministered there, loved there, and some ways left a part of our souls in that little Southwestern Virginia town.
Watching the images on TV and on the net for us was more than surreal - it was very real. West AJ, the site of the first two murders, was on my normal route from athletic facilities, to Cochrane dorm where many athletes lived, to the West End dining facility where I ate many a meal with students. I can still see in my mind the doors of West Ambler Johnson from the windows of West End. The hokie stone buildings, the green grass of the drill field, all echoed the joys of work with human beings on that campus. It is all to real for me. Norris Hall is a stone's throw from the philosophy classes I took on campus, where I experienced September 11th with a group of students in class that cold Tuesday morning in 2001. So many good, right, and true things took place in my soul on that campus, and in the lives of many students there. God is at work there - then, and now, but in such a different way on this Tuesday morning. It is all too real to me.
Yesterday, evil visited the campus at Virginia Tech. Yes, I am sure the normal tripe about the shooter being crazy, insane etc. will be offered. We like insanity and sickness for our own much better than we like evil and depravity. The fact that 33 young people died of gun shot is no stranger to the inner city hospitals of America, but this is different for enlightened civilized western culture. Here the shootings were not in the ghetto, but on the campus. Here the shootings were among the elite, educated, the height of the civilized world - the university. Our view of ourselves as moderns cannot bear the weight of such inhumanity happening amidst the halls of learning. Our schools should be safe, this should not happen and so we are shocked that it did. So now the normal media circus and blame game has begun in typical fashion while no one seems to be stopping to examine our own souls. The worldview of Scripture is much different than that of mainstream western culture. We see ourselves as good, pure, civilized with only the bad apples of ignorance, poverty, and lack of education letting us down. Yet are we that good? Or are we in need of grace, forgiveness, transformation? Something is afoul in the heart of the human race, though we numb ourselves with entertainment and material possessions to not have to face this any more. The reality is that a human being murdered 33 of his fellow souls yesterday, even his own life. What are we to do? Many will blame God, many will go to him, many perhaps might hear the voice of Jesus through it all, most will blame others, weep, and wonder what is happening in this thing called life.
What did Jesus say in the midst of tragedy? It is both shocking and liberating to read. It is not as kind as you may hear from a grief counselor, nor as crass as you will hear from the talking heads pointing their fingers. But in his words we see reality - the world indeed is fallen, and those in it depraved. But in his own suffering of violence we can be changed, redeemed yet the cost is high to humanity. It requires looking in the mirror, being honest about our sin, and coming needy to God. I will let him speak for himself:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Our paths ahead are no doubt lingered with atrocities, our own mortality, and the call of the gospel receive grace from God. How do we make sense of wickedness? We do not. Evil is to life as a contradiction is to reason - it simply is out of place, twisted, and grotesque. Yet until we acknowledge the verity of Jesus' words “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him...For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” we are no further along than we imagine ourselves to be. This is a moment not for pessimism, but for hope - but hope not that we humanity will save itself and we shall never have to see the face of darkness again on the earth. No, our solace, hope, and triumph must come from our maker - the one who can transform and redeem our darkened hearts...even during the days that threaten to crush the soul and lead us to despair. Yet repentance and faith are humiliating to us when we would rather blame others and exalt ourselves. We would make the world better you see - if it were not for THEM, the world would be a better place. So we remain self-deceived in the midst of our pain and confusion.
When God visited this world in flesh, it is not surprising where he went and what he had to undergo. His blood was spilled and splattered on ancient soil so that the blood of the living might be redeemed. Let not this time pass in vain.
Please pray for our friends in Blacksburg, there are many burdens to bear and move love to give, grief and mourning to be shared...in just such a time as this. Friends on the ground in Montgomery county, Kasey and I are praying for you and love you very deeply. We are deeply sorrowful and ache with all of you.