What Are We to Learn From the Virginia Tech Tragedy?
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Evil walked into a Virginia college this week and left another human tragedy in its wake.
Our first reaction is to think, "Oh, no, not again!" The inevitable questions come amid the shock and grief of asking, "Why?"
It is a story told too often. The shooting at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Monday is the worst such massacre in modern American history. A senior student at the university killed 32 students and staff in a morning rampage. The shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, then turned his gun on himself and ended his emotionally tortured and twisted life. Reports coming in are just beginning to fill in the blanks of this tragic event.
It now appears the gunman was a very troubled young man with a known history of mental illness. He was described as a loner by his classmates and, after examination a few years ago, was said to be mentally ill and an "imminent danger." Yet even with these warning signs, no one could predict, or prevent, such an act of wanton carnage on a peaceful college campus.
As terrible as this act was, it was not the only massacre this week. On Wednesday in Iraq 183 people were killed in suicide bomb attacks in four locations. We won't see the faces and names of those Iraqi innocents who died, and in America there will not be endless hours of news coverage trying to wring every bit of information from the event. But those who died in Iraq are every bit as human and their deaths are just as tragic as those in Virginia. We live in a world that can turn violent on a moment's notice.
What are we to learn from an event like this? Let's look at something Christ said about tragedies in His day. In Luke 13 Christ was talking to His disciples, and He pointed to two events they were all familiar with.
"There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish'" (Luke 13:1-5).
Christ does not give all the reasons "why" behind these events. There may have been reasons for the Galileans' deaths, while it is likely those on whom the tower fell were unfortunate victims of time and chance. They were just in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
But it didn't mean one was a worse sinner than the other. Christ is saying that they were all part of a world left to make its own decisions apart from God's direct intervention in every affair. Now is not the time God is setting His hand to save the world from suffering. Our booklet Why Does God Allow Suffering? gives a thorough explanation to this most important of questions.
But Christ used these well-known "headline incidents" of the day to make a point that applies to every generation. Now is the time to rise from mediocrity and pursue the Kingdom of God with all your heart and soul.
Without repentance and heeding the call of the Kingdom of God, life can be extinguished without the chance to understand its purpose. Those who died in Christ's examples are nameless. They died as most others in the world have died, without knowing the true God, His plan and His purpose. Christ is saying that we have a chance to change and live with purpose.
Earlier in this same sermon Christ was dismayed that people hadn't learned to "discern this time" (Luke 12:56). Tragic events like this college massacre should spur us to heed Christ's challenge to know our times and examine our life in light of the imminent Kingdom of God. It is always the right time for us to see the great need for God's Kingdom and to pray "Your Kingdom come."
We pray for God's grace and comfort on the family and friends of those affected by this shooting. Nothing in this life will replace or fully remove their pain and loss. But God knows those who died—they will not be forgotten. They will return to life in a future time, and their pain and suffering will be removed. God's promise is clear and secure.
May each of us be moved to greater clarity about the great issues of life and may we all pray "Your Kingdom come."