Virginia Tech University has become the site of the worst shooting in United States history. I can't begin to process the pain, emotional trauma, and desperate reactions that are pouring out of parents whose world has been rocked beyond comprehension. The shear numbers are mind-numbing…..thirty-three people are dead and at least 26 people are injured. Prior to this tragedy the worst campus shooting in American history took place at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966 when Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower and opened fire with a high-powered rifle. Sixteen people died before police were able to push past his barricade and shoot him to death.
The deadliest U.S. shooting took place in Killeen, Texas in 1991 when George Hennard drove his pickup truck into Luby's Cafeteria and shot 23 people before taking his own life. Of course, one of the defining moments of our time is the tragedy of Columbine where the names Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were elevated from high school students to notorious killers when they took the lives of 12 students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves.
Add to this running total of insanity the church shootings in Texas and Kentucky and the rampage of a madman in the Amish country and you have the personification of evil unleashed on our culture.
But what should happen as the smoke clears from the latest assault on our senses? I am not sure what should happen but I am definitely sure what should not happen. We should not be engaging in Monday morning quarterbacking and second guessing while parents are holding their breath to see if their sons or daughters are among those who were killed. I turned on my satellite radio as the news began to flow out of Virginia Tech and I was appalled to discover that before the last victim was removed from the building the finger pointing had begun. There were discussions about why the Administration failed to close down the 2,700 acre plus campus immediately. There were questions about how the gunman could kill two people in the morning in a dorm and two hours later extend the carnage to mind boggling proportions in a classroom and office building. People were blaming the president of the university, God, the devil, our sin sick culture, campus security, the police, and the government, literally no one was free from the possibility of blame. All of this while parents, friends, and loved ones were realizing their worst nightmare had come to pass.
What is wrong with us! Can't we at least for a few days just shut up and mourn? Can anything be gained at this point by pointing fingers? Will we find even a small measure of comfort in ascribing blame to someone or some institution? God help us that we have become so insensitive that we would look for answers to this tragedy before we look to God for comfort. This is not the time to cry out for a pound of flesh from decent people who reacted as best they could to an unfolding disaster. It is a time to cry out from our very soul to the God of all comfort for a huge measure of His grace in the face of this devastating evil.
There will be plenty of time later on to ask why. If we feel we have to hold somebody accountable for a random act of evil that can come later. We are so reluctant to acknowledge that evil exists we want to find a human scapegoat for the work of Satan. Some called into my talk show this morning to sound off about how evil we have become as a nation and how God was visiting judgment on us once again. I wonder if any of those callers would care to share that assessment with the parents of any of the students who were shot down in cold blood. Have we become so cold and callous that we view every event in light of making a political or spiritual point? That would be like me as a pastor going to the home of someone who died in car accident and asking them how they felt about the traffic laws of the state. It would be an insanely insensitive and sinful thing to do and yet the 24 hour news cycle is pursuing the same course.
I was interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio program a few hours after the shooting. One of the questions I was asked was, "Where was God in all of this?" My answer was simple….God was huddled in the hallways with frightened students as they waited to see if they would be next in the line of fire. God was riding with wounded students to the hospitals, comforting them as they fought for their lives. God was strengthening the hands of the surgeons and nurses who worked feverously over the wounded trying to save their lives. God was comforting the distraught parents who were receiving word that their son or daughter wouldn't be coming home again.
Job's so called friends who attended him after disaster struck were wise to "sit down with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great"(Job 2:13, NASV emphasis mine). It was after they opened their mouths that they got into trouble with God. They were anxious to help Job find the sin in his life that lead to his condition. When God finally spoke, before He dealt with Job, He condemned the shortsighted, merciless attitude of his friends.
Once while Jesus and His disciples were passing by a blind man his disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" It seems the need to assign blame for tragedy is universal. How could these disciples stand there looking at the pitiful sight of man struggling with his infirmity and instead of asking what can be done they want to know who did what? We are guilty of the same attitude when we demand answers to a tragedy that defies logic or reason before we just sit down and weep. Jesus answer was, of course, profound. He said, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:3-4 NASVemphasis mine). The works of God that need to be worked at this moment are grace and mercy. Discernment and judgment can come later. Right now, we all need to just shut up and mourn.
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.