The Rev. Ed Schneider: Movie theater massacre sends a terrifying message
Let me jog your memory.
At the University of Texas, Austin Campus (1966), the “Clock Tower Sniper” killed 18 people; at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas (1991), 23 people were shot dead; Columbine High School (1999), 12 dead; Virginia Polytechnic Institute (2007), 33 dead; Fort Hood Army Base (2009), 13 dead; and just a few weeks ago at a movie complex in Aurora, Colo., a heavily-armed gunman with no history of mental illness or outward anger walked into a crowded theater and opened fire. Before James Holmes finished, he had killed 12 people. This killing spree included men, women, boys and girls, and more than 50 others were wounded.
Each one of these “mass” shootings happened without warning and in a public venue. Each one of these horrendous acts of intentional violence supplied not only the fulfillment of the killer’s fantasy of death, but a public display of terror that dramatically altered the understanding of good and evil for those directly involved. The recent movie theater shooting is the most recent example of evil personified by one man on scores of people. My question to you, the reader: “Why are any of us still surprised when public acts of senseless murder periodically happen?”
Truthfully, senseless murder and fantasy killing happen far too frequently –– both in America and around the world –– to pretend otherwise. Without a doubt, these kinds of acts of violence are horrific. They serve only the sick minds of the evil people who fantasize about vengeance or sadistic pleasures. Each killer advances the convoluted “thinking” concerning his personal weakness into a perverted sense of overt self-empowerment. What gives any of us the notion that we can prevent this type of sickness of rearing its ugliness in ways that can only be described as terrorism?
Beloved, nothing can spare us from this happening again, and yet we are called to go on, to move forward with life as we are able. In fact, the question is not will it happen again, because it most certainly will. The question that begs to be asked is, “What will each of us individually, and all of us collectively, do as we react to this experience?”
Will we, yet again, go to some church near us for a few Sundays and then fade into anonymity? Will we, yet again, have midnight or early-morning community prayer vigils for healing while never backing up the gathering with real and sustainable fellowship? Will we, yet again, hide from the reality of evil as a tangible and definitive part of the human existence?
If the answer is “yes” to any or all of these, then the near future seems bleak, at best. However, if we can just for a moment “believe” in the existence of “evil,” we begin to come to grips emotionally with the reality of the circumstance. By envisioning evil as a tangible and authentic reality within our poor human existence, then just perhaps we can begin to entertain the idea that the opposite of evil –– God, however, you can deal with that understanding –– may actually exist.
Think about what would happen if one of these terrible circumstances actually brought people “back to God,” instead of pushing them further away? Just imagine what may occur if people started to believe again in a God of love and peace and mercy and joy and innate goodness. Imagine what the opposite of evil may be like. Imagine a world celebrating as a standard course of our lives the authentic and deeply personal ways of goodness and mercy and gracious interpersonal relationships. For those of you who can sincerely entertain the real probability of “evil” then stop pretending God, however you can understand that concept as being, doesn’t exist.
God exists! God actually is! God is not a philosophy that stands alone in the library of the human experience. God is certainly not limited to a figment of the imagination of under-educated people. No! God exists! God actually is! Most importantly, God is the opposite of evil and without question the understanding of a loving, peaceful, and joyously empowering Creator is all but absent in the minds of those who perpetrate these crimes upon helpless and defenseless crowds of humanity.
Please, I encourage all of you to pray all you want. However, prayer is far more effective if it starts with the internal faith that “God is.” When evil –– in any form –– is displayed, the only way to battle its effect is to preempt it by living a life devoted to searching for who and what God is. By continually searching for the goodness surrounding God, and working every day to making that journey of faith come to life, we find ourselves fixed on the value of human existence not the devaluing of human life. When we believe that “God is,” each person we come in contact with in the course of our daily lives is presented with personal evidence of the divine possibilities of hope. Why is that important? Because human beings who find themselves void of hope succumb to awful things ... evil things.
Can we eliminate evil from this world? No. However, we can make a significant difference if we answer the clarion call of God. If we take the opportunity to think about the deeper questions of life and death, goodness and evil, even spiritual darkness and light, we must come to the conclusion that evil is only conquered with good personified. Good personified can only happen when something outside of us enlightens, encourages, and uplifts our human understanding of life itself. From my point of view that newness of understanding occurs greatly as we begin to awaken to the reality of God’s existence.
Beloved, take Pastor Ed’s advice. Feel terrible for the useless violence. Sensing overt anger for the tragedy of taking innocent life is completely appropriate. I would even suggest reflecting about the value of each breathe we take. However, the one real and sustainable goodness that may come from this act of terrorism is for many of us to run full speed as though the Devil himself were chasing you ... back into the arms of God.
The Rev Ed Schneider is the pastor of The ROCK Church of Oak Ridge, Tenn., and can be contacted through the church’s website, www.therockoakridge.net.