By Randy Limbird
Evil literally invaded our city Aug. 3 when a deranged, deluded young man drove 600 miles across Texas to gun down dozens of Walmart shoppers, killing 22 of them.
Our city overwhelmingly rallied in support of the families of those killed, and those wounded and traumatized by the attack. Financial donations poured in. One widower appealed for people to attend his wife’s funeral because she had no family here, and thousands came. A local FBI agent, who had investigated many mass shootings, remarked about the turnout: “I’ve never seen the show of support like I am seeing here today.”
Despite such outpourings of aid and comfort, most of us remain at a loss to make any sense of this massacre.
Dealing with the why of tragedy has always been a challenge for people of faith. Jesus himself was asked about two major tragedies involving mass deaths in Luke 13. We don’t know much about these stories: One involved Pontius Pilate, who ordered Roman soldiers to kill some Galileans, perhaps suspected of insurrection, while they were offering sacrifices at the temple. Another was the collapse of the Tower of Siloam, which killed 18 people.
In the Jewish way of thinking at that time, it was assumed that such calamities could only befall ill-fated people, since their view of God presumed He would protect faithful, righteous people. Jesus immediately rejected that idea: “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!“ (Luke 13:4-5).
In today’s world, no rational person would suggest the victims are to blame in cases like this. Yet our human nature still leads to other irrational responses.
• We often respond by treating evil as an individual act and ignoring broader forces. An extreme example is blaming World War II and the Holocaust solely on Adolf Hitler. But Hitler came to power in a society entrenched in nationalism and anti-Semitism.
Overall, we’ve done well in El Paso Walmart by not focusing solely on the shooter. We’ve acknowledged the various evil forces that contributed to these killings, including the irrational hatred of immigrants that has spread throughout the country.
Nevertheless, there are those who simply point at the accused killer as mentally ill, and ignore the powder keg of socially and politically endorsed hatred that needed that person’s lit match.
• We often have the reverse tendency of ancient Jews. Instead of assuming the worst about the victims, we turn them into saints. Victims become heroes for no other reason than how they died. The fact remains that these were people just like the rest of us, with virtues and vices like everyone else.
Jesus makes that point in Luke 13. The victims of the tragedies were not to blame. But death awaits all of us, he adds. Without repentance and faith, there is no hope of anything beyond death.
Randy Limbird is editor of
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