Stunned, saddened, sickened & silenced - that captures something of my reaction to the news of the terrifying, tragic, carnage in Las Vegas last night.
Perhaps some who read this post will have relatives caught up - brothers, sisters, friends, may you know, in abundance, the grace, peace & comfort of the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, in dark days that lie ahead.
How horrifying for survivors to watch loved ones mowed down in cold blood or expiring in their arms! How terrifying for those who, at a moment's notice, were snatched away from earth by this barbarous act!
I've been reflecting a little today on how to make some sense of what frankly beggars belief: we are wise to admit, there are elements in all this that our finite minds cannot fathom - in the end we know God will overrule gratuitous violence for good; yet there are other elements here, which should give us cause to pause and help lawmakers learn lessons.
By instinct, you must know, I'm politically naturally strongly conservative. I believe in the right to self-defense, though I've never owned a gun (nor even fired a loaded rifle - except an air gun once or twice in childhood). Indeed, I've often mused about whether or not, if I lived in the States, I would go out and buy a gun. I came to the conclusion, a number of months ago, that there were merits in doing exactly that.
It is, I suggest, an entirely different scenario to be martyred for your faith, than to defend your church or family against an intruder, or loan-shark killer, or terrorist gunman. As a Christian and a pastor I believe I have a duty to preserve the life God gives. I am persuaded that it would be unjustified and cowardly not to defend others if I was called upon to do so. In other words, if I ever received a call to the States I might then require a Colt!
Yet..... when almost 60 lives have been lost, 60 family circles bereaved and over 500 divine image bearers been cast on hospital beds; and when some member of the public has perpetrated such widespread bloodshed by obtaining automatic weaponry, with what, we might assume, is relative ease (although perhaps in this instance there is some other explanation - we need to know the facts before we jump to conclusions - though that would not necessarily affect the point I'm trying to make); and when the voices of victims blood cry out from the ground, on which their mortal bodies fell, to the righteous God above...
...I wonder, just wonder, have two useful tools become false gods that have let a nation down?
I would be foolish if I did not realize some might wonder why an Irishman (who has spent only a few weeks in the States and is largely ignorant of its history and constitution) would dare to proffer comment on such a dark, tear-soaked, violent day. Yet maybe it is easier to notice some things from a distance, so I pray you, my dear brothers and sisters, on the far side of the Atlantic, will not take offense, as I gently tender these thoughts.
The two false gods I mention are the greenback and the gun.
We can worship the greenback when we make it our chief source of happiness, comfort, security and pleasure. We can worship the gun when we make it our chief confidence for protection and defense. If, however, loyalty to the greenback in the wallet of the gun lobby, clouds the discussion or controls the legislation, two useful tools, God-given for supply and safety, combine, with idolatrous force, to negate the duty to guard life.
As a river of blood trickles down the streets of Vegas this morning, perhaps this is a watershed, chastening, moment to awaken Federal Government, both in Senate and Congress, to the fact that two false gods have betrayed, and let down, U.S. citizens badly. The greenback and the gun were designed to boost comfort and protection. Now exalted to elite 'untouchable' status, and granted 'diplomatic immunity', they are no longer the road to happiness but to unbridled and heartache. There is an urgent need to limit further blood-guilt.
Certainly it is proper, good and holy, to defend the life God gave. Yet when what was intended for good, has an unintended, transparently bad, consequence, then the gods of greenback and gun, should be demolished and torn down. These two cruel idols should be put back where they belong, by introducing stricter regulation and tighter safeguards on gun ownership.
By that, of course, I don't mean take all guns off the streets, nor empty all hunting rifles out of your cabin gun cabinets. At risk of being simplistic, let me suggest this, among other helpful measures, as a way to honor commandment 6 and make it harder for the murderer: that automatic weapons, of the sort that do mass-damage, be restricted, with some necessary exceptions, to law-enforcement officers.
Am I so foolish to think that this will stop all bloodshed on the streets and every mass-killing attempt? Of course I am not suggesting such a step as this, or similar measures, would be a panacea for all large-scale homicidal acts! Guns are only tools, as ISIS terrorist acts demonstrate: if murderers want to maim they can use juggernauts in Nice, France, or automobiles on Westminster Bridge, London. One previous blogger is right: all evils of this category proceed from wicked, hateful, hearts.
Yet this seems to be the reason why, in Europe currently, it is harder to hire vehicles - rental clients now queue at airports, for lengthy background security checks, introduced as counter-terrorism, preventative, measures. This also explains why concrete barriers have been erected on the roadsides around the UK Houses of Parliament - so Islamist extremists cannot drive vehicles into pedestrians.
In all sinful acts there are two key things to consider: first the desire to commit evil and, second, the opportunity to do so.
When desire is present without the occasion then, in the outward act at least, sin cannot be committed. The same situation pertains when occasion would permit: if desire is absent, crime is not perpetrated. When both desire and occasion are present, then evil is at hand, and transgression is enacted. It is such a situation that the Lord's Prayer addresses: 'deliver us from evil, lead us not into temptation.'
Saving grace in Christ, then, is the answer to remove homicidal desire from the killer. However, also, we must note, the Lord in His good providence often restrains and checks evil of those who would otherwise perpetrate crimes. God, in His Sovereign wisdom, has appointed civil government. Rulers are His servants. Legislators have certain duties
One of their chief responsibilities is to hinder those bent on homicide by restricting the opportunity and refusing a license to kill. A way rulers may do that is to uphold the right to bear arms and the right of citizens' self-defense - when first shots are fired then they may take a killer down before one death becomes a crowd. Another is by restricting the sale of firearms and limiting the damage discharged guns may do! If this provokes NRA anger, rulers must aim at God's pleasure!
Do I believe that the violence in Vegas could have been prevented? Whether or not a restriction on automatic weaponry would have stopped the bloodshed, it is impossible to say with certainty. Those bent on murder will always find a weapon. If it had reduced the count of lives lost by one, it would have been right. More importantly such a ban would have erected one additional barrier in the path to bloodshed. In discouraging mass homicide lawmakers can do their duty more diligently. In this way they 'kiss' Christ the Lawgiver.
Once I had finished the first draft of this article on Monday, I became aware of another post on this subject written by one of my brothers - I heartily concur with his blog which among other things addresses the implications of the Gospel as concerns the salvation of the sinners: this post is an analysis from a slightly different angle - the Gospel as concerns the sanctity of life in society.