I'm a minister, and I've often wondered if someone would walk into the church where I am preaching and start shooting at me and the congregation. In recent years I think any pastor who has stepped into a pulpit has wondered the same question. I grieve with the surviving members of the church in Charleston, South Carolina, who mourn the loss of their brothers and sisters. Is there a safe place for anyone today?
Probably not. Shootings have taken place in movie theaters, shopping malls, elementary schools offices, factories, homes, Army bases and in broad daylight in outdoor public gatherings. When some crazed delusional person desires to act out their hate, their ideology or anger on others there seems to be no law nor force that can prevent the carnage.
We live in a violent age. Weapons are accessible to any who want them. The internet contains instructions to build crude bombs. When there is a will to harm, it can be acted on with devastating results.
Is our popular culture to blame for this? Experts will debate both sides of the question, but it doesn't take an expert to draw some conclusions. Look at any list of the top grossing films of recent years, and you will see that more than half of the top 10-15 films will deal with violent themes. Do they entertain? Yes. Do the good guys win in the end? Mostly. It depends on your definition of "good guys." Often the films star fantasy figures or machines. But violence is always served in heaping portions.
But let's not only pick on entertainment. Look at the news that comes to us. We see beheadings of Christians in the Middle East. We vicariously wonder at drone strikes against terrorist outposts. We grieve over riots in American cities, which often come in reaction to actions taken by law enforcement against citizens. You can debate what is just or not but the net impact is one violent act piled upon another.
Violence fills the land! Violence will beget violence. What we need is truth, mercy and justice to run through the land rather than anger, hatred and blood. And if we cannot do something about the mass violence like this recent atrocity in Charleston, then at least let's do something about any anger, envy or bitterness that might well up within our hearts. Put violence out of your life. Give it no place.
The prophet Isaiah described the streets of Jerusalem in his day as places full of violence: "All their activity is filled with sin, and violence is their trademark." Justice was sought but not found. "We growl like hungry bears; we moan like mournful doves. We look for justice, but it never comes. We look for rescue, but it is far away from us" (Isaiah 59:6, Isaiah 59:11).
It's too easy to pull a Bible scripture that describes today's world. What's harder is that you and I pull out a scripture that moves us to change our heart and actions—what the Bible calls repentance. It's only when we take responsibility for seeking out the true God in heartfelt cries of concern for the suffering of today's world that we take the first step toward the biblical solution. Isaiah concludes his passage by saying, "'The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins,' says the Lord" (Isaiah 59:20).
I keep standing in a pulpit speaking God's word to those who will hear. I cannot worry about what might happen. I offer sincerest sympathy for the families and friends of those who were killed in that church in Charleston, South Carolina. May the Redeemer come and bring His glorious Kingdom of peace and comfort.