Last night, in Charleston, South Carolina, as members of the Emanuel AME Church gathered for prayer and Bible study, a young white man joined them. He sat with the group for nearly an hour when suddenly he pulled out a gun and opened fire, killing the pastor, as well as 8 other parishioners.
As we struggle to wrap our minds around such an act of senseless violence, we ask many questions. Personally, I keep wondering what passage they had been studying. Why couldn't the love of God penetrate that young man's heart? What evil must have consumed him. We ask why? Why them? Why there?
We join with so many around our nation who mourn. We join in prayer for these families, this church, and their community. The grief we feel is deep.
I was thinking that perhaps what we struggle to comprehend is not just THAT this terrible tragedy happened, but WHERE it happened.
It took place in a church.
For a believer, just about every big event in life is celebrated in the confines of the local church. Weddings, births, christenings and dedications, graduations, memorials and funerals. Even for the unchurched, they seem to flock to churches when there is a time of national crisis. The church is a place of refuge, where people seek solace and comfort. Although God is everywhere, they know they can find Him in the church.
Perhaps that's why this shooting has particularly scarred our consciousness. It just shouldn't be, especially there!
In the Old Testament, there is a story of a soon-to-be-deposed-king, who ran to the sanctuary because he knew he would be safe there. We all run to the sanctuary for that same reason at certain times in our lives. Psalms 68:35 tells us, "You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!" (NIV)
But here's the thing. When Jesus died 2,000 years ago and the temple veil was torn in two, laying bare the inside of that sacred space, it signaled a new order. God would no longer be confined to a sanctuary built by human hands, but He would dwell within the human heart.
"You know that you are God’s sanctuary and that God’s Spirit lives in you, don’t you?" 1 Corinthians 3:16 (ISV)
The world is indeed, a dangerous place, but there is comfort in knowing that God is within us, around us, never leaving us, and never forsaking us. So let us lift up our friends in Charleston to our heavenly Father in prayer, but let us also refuse to live in fear. Now, more than ever, we must be prepared to speak, prepared to give an account, and motivated by love.
May God be glorified through this tragedy. May a light be shined upon His church and His people, loving and living in freedom. The whole world is watching. May we represent Him well.
May what was said in Joseph's day, be said in the coming days in Charleston, “...Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart." Genesis 50:19-21 (Msg)
I understand that there are deep racial scars that this tragedy has reopened as well. I'm not minimizing them, I am just leaving that portion of the conversation for those more qualified than I.