On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz walked into his former school in Parkland, Florida armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon and a desire to kill.
17 people…brave teachers and innocent high school students…seven of them 14 years old…died.
I can't wrap my mind around the loss of 17 lives, killed in such a senseless, violent way. As a parent of three teenagers and a 12-year old, I can't imagine what my kids would go through…mentally, emotionally, spiritually…if they were exposed to such a mass shooting in their midst. The event would change their lives, skew their view of the world, and create nightmares that they may never be able to shake.
And if any of them were a victim of such an event, as a parent, I am not sure how I would react, respond, or recover.
Putting myself in the shoes of those in Parkland, Florida is a terrifying thought.
Ironically, and perhaps intentionally, the shooting occured on Valentine's Day, a day in which we are called to celebrate and express love.
That day was also Ash Wednesday, a day in which we are to remember our sinfulness and mortality and are called to repent.
A tragedy of this magnitude should call all of us to stop, reflect, and come together in a time of mourning.
As humans, we are all mortal. We are all vulnerable. We are all in this together.
Instead we have become such a polarized culture that even tragedy doesn't bring us together.
It actually moves us further apart.
We retreat to our respective political and ideological corners. Blame the other side. Defend our own position. And grow more angry, cynical, and divided.
Instead of being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger," we become the opposite…closed to listening, quick to argue, and enflamed in anger.
As I listen to the arguments about gun control or gun rights, I realize that there is truth on both sides. A 19 year old with mental health issues should not have access to an AR-15. If I was a parent whose child just got killed by a semi-automatic weapon, I would want to ban them too. I would also want greater security and the ability to protect myself from those who have a desire to kill. I would want the FBI to do a better job of following up on warning signs. I would want better mental health services. I would want more respect for life, less broken homes, less violence in the media, less lawlessness, and more kindness.
I would want any potential situation in the world that would have prevented this tragedy.
I would want my child back.
But in the midst of the loss, I think more than anything I would want the tragedy to mean something. I want would it to lead to some meaningful change, to bring together a divided nation in common repentance and resolve.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all part of the problem. Yes, Nikolas Cruz bears the culpability alone for the murderous choices he made. But he is a part of our humanity, a part of our culture, and his crime reveals something about the state of our human hearts.
Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21-22).
At the root of murder is an angry, hateful, desensitized, dehumanizing heart.
When I insult or curse another human being, I say that their life has no value in the eyes of God. I raise myself up above them. I begin to think that my life would be better off if they were not a part of it.
My anger contributes to a toxic culture…and a toxic culture breeds toxic individuals.
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:18-19).
Ultimately the tragedy that occured in Parkland, Florida is not a political issue. It is a heart issue.
Laws can curb some evil but they cannot cure the human heart.
That's what repentance is for.
That's the meaning of Ash Wednesday.
There is a God. We are made in His image. We have sinned against Him. We are accountable to Him. We are mortal.
And we need His grace.
We need a Savior.
Our nation now scoffs when God or prayer are brought up in the midst of tragedy. Such "religious wishful thinking" seems meaningless to a prideful, self-autonomous, contemptuous culture.
But that is part of the problem.
We are too angry to weep. Too proud to see our need.
Perhaps the words of a president in the midst of our nation's most divided, violent, and tragic time can still speak to us today.
Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;
And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.
But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
(Abraham Lincoln, Proclamation 97—Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer, March 30, 1863)
O Lord, comfort the hearts of those grieving. Give them a peace beyond understanding and a hope beyond this cruel world. Give me a humble heart that grieves with them. Forgive our sins as a people. And please heal our land.