Processing the Terror in Orlando

June 12, 2016 at 4:05 pm 5 comments


Orlando Terror Attacks

Credit:  The Guardian

Terror doesn’t sleep.

This is one of the lessons we’re learning from what has become the worst mass shooting in U.S. history carried out early this morning around 2 o’clock at a nightclub in Orlando.

The shooter’s name was Omar Mateen.  He had drawn the attention of the FBI in the past, and before he carried out his terror attack, he called 911 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS.  By the time his AR-15-style rifle and his handgun were silenced, 50 people were dead and over 50 were injured.  Mr. Mateen himself was killed by law enforcement officials while he was holed up in one of the club’s bathrooms with hostages.

News reports have been filled with people expressing shock, sadness, and outrage.  All of these responses are certainly appropriate, but what especially grieves me is that they are also entirely predictable.  We know how people will respond to a terror attack emotionally precisely because we have had so much practice responding to terror attacks emotionally.  ParisSan BernardinoBrussels.   But this tragedy – like the ones that have come before it – is too important not to respond.  When human life is senselessly and violently taken, we should stop and we should reflect and we should respond.  Here are a few things, then, to keep in mind.

Do not be afraid.

This is not the first time I have written this in the face of a terror attack.  But this is also something that bears repeating.  After all, whenever an attack like this one unfolds, our natural and almost reflexive reaction is to ask, “Am I next?  Am I safe?”  But such questions are unhelpful because such questions are utterly unanswerable.  There is no way for us to control the future.  This is why the apostle Paul commends us to be people of prayer rather than people of worry and fear: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  We may not be able to control the future, but we do know someone who holds the future.  We are called to present our fear to Him and place our trust in Him.

I should point out that there is a difference between being afraid and being vigilant.  Fear happens when a person mulls over all sorts of possible, though unverifiable, bad scenarios for the future.  Vigilance is when a person looks for clues of trouble in the present and reports them to the appropriate authorities for investigation.  Being vigilant is helpful.  Being afraid is needless.

Remember, there is a reason attacks like the one in Orlando are called acts of terror.  They are attacks specifically designed to instill fear.  Don’t let these attacks have their way in your heart.  Christ is stronger than terror.

Be careful connecting dots.

One of the major focal points of this story has been the clientele to whom this night club in Orlando catered.  The club at which these attacks were carried out is called the Pulse, which is well-known as a hotspot for those in the LGBT community.  Shortly after the attacks, GLAAD, a gay rights advocacy group, tweeted, “Our hearts break for the victims and families of this horrific act of violence. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in #Orlando.”  The call to stand in a solidarity of care, concern, and compassion is well-taken.

At the same time, many in the media and beyond are already wondering and conjecturing out loud concerning whether or not the fact that this is an LGBT club in any way served as a motive for the shooter.  In an article for the Huffington Post, Michelangelo Signorile offers a brief history of attacks against LGBT spaces, strongly intimating that the Orlando attack was probably more of the same.

Whether or not the patronage of this nightclub is somehow connected to the motive of the shooter is certainly a question that needs to be asked and answered.  At this point, however, overly confident pronouncements can do more harm than good.  A good rule of thumb is this:  investigation precedes correlation.  In other words, let’s not jump to conclusions.

As a Christian, this is something that I must regularly remember.  It can be far too tempting to search for some pious, consoling, and grandiose reason why a God who Scripture reveals to be a strong and sure defense would allow a horrific tragedy like this to happen.  But correlating current events to overly specific divine purposes is a theological fool’s errand.  Theologically, I must say only what I can know for sure according to Scripture: (1) that such a shooting is an expression of deep sinfulness and depravity (Romans 3:15); (2) that events of death grieve the heart of God because death is not a part of His design (1 Corinthians 15:20-22); and (3) that God is with and cares for those who have lost loved ones (Psalm 23:4).

Connecting disparate facts now will only leave you looking a fool later.  So be careful.

Remember Christianity’s unique message.

As I have said in the past, I am sympathetic to those who claim that ISIS does not represent Islamic theology, at least in any responsible sense.  Just as I do not see the theological stances of, let’s say, the Westboro Baptist Church to be authentically Christian in any regular sense of the term, I can understand why many Muslim theologians would decry and deny that ISIS represents their faith.  But even if ISIS does not represent the Islamic faith in any theologically and academically rigorous way, it does represent some sort of faith – even if the faith it represents calls on its adherents to destroy those it hates.  And this is where Christianity stands apart.  The beauty of the Christian faith is that it centers around a man who loved those who hated Him and sought to destroy Him.  Moreover, whereas ISIS calls on its fighters to lay down their lives in order to bring death to infidels, Christianity has a Savior who laid down His life in order to bring life to sinners.  In other words, Christianity serves as the perfect foil to all the terror ISIS is dishing out.  Christianity loves when ISIS hates.  Christianity promises life when ISIS seeks death.  This is why, on a day that is full of plenty of reasons to hate and to grieve, I once again to turn to Christ who gives me reasons to love and to hope.  And I ask you to join me in doing the same.

May Christ reveal His love and His life to Orlando.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nancy Benson  |  June 12, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    Your article on the events in Orlando was so well presented and your comments that our God in Jesus died for us compared to a god the tells his people to kill. Our God rejoices in life which He gave to us even though we don’t deserve it. Because of Jesus taking the punishment for us -we are seen as righteous because Jesus died in our place. Our God is Love and the god of ISIS is hate. Our Saviour forgives and we need to follow His example and forgive. We need to pray for the injured and the grieving families in Orlando, but also pray for the man’s family whose son committed these murders. Thanks Pastor Zach for your Words of Jesus reminding us that we do not need to fear or worry- we are told to give these to God and to continue to be His Disciples of love, kindness, comfort and respect to all men for God loves mankind. Again I thank you for your Wise, Truthful and Encouraging words. In Christ’s Love, Nancy Benson

    Reply
  • 2. Jon Trautman  |  June 12, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    We have had far to many evidences of pure evil over the past several years…….Lybia,Syria,Iraq,Kurdistan,Turkey,France,Pakistan,Africa,Belgium,Britain, and the United States. The evil one is powerful but Christ is not only unconquerable , but available 24/7. As Christians we need to remind ourselves to put on the armor of Christ and join him and batter down the gates of hell. Love is unimaginable brilliance; hate is total deep darkness. Let’s Pray and be assertively Christian in all our relationships. In Jesus’ name we can light the darkness.

    Reply
  • 3. The Holy Mess (@SaraBorgstede)  |  June 13, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Thanks for this helpful blog post about such a tragic situation. I especially appreciate your insights about the difference between vigilance and living in ongoing fear.

    Reply
  • 4. Heidi  |  June 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    So well written & encouraging. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  • 5. 2016 in Review | Pastor Zach's Blog  |  January 2, 2017 at 5:33 am

    […] Omar Mateen opens fire in an LGBT-frequented Orlando nightclub, killing 50 and injuring 50 more.  In a stunning electoral surprise, Britons vote to leave the […]

    Reply

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