Today, a gunman opened fire at a retirement home just a couple of miles from my home. One person was killed and two others injured, before the gunman fled and committed suicide.
This is not the first time that such an event has hit close to home for me. In 2012, I was living in Casper, Wyoming and serving as an intern for Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Casper College (I was previously a CC student and graduate). On November 30 of that year, a series of attacks occurred near and on that campus that resulted in the deaths of two professors and the shooter, the son of one of the professors. As a part of my role with BCM, I attended a prayer meeting outside of the building where the attack occurred the following Monday when the campus was reopened. After the meeting concluded, the BCM director, our president, and I along with the director of the Campus Ventures ministry at CC walked/prayed through the building. It was a chilling experience. Here was a place where I had attended classes in hopes of obtaining a degree, in hopes of a better life. In a matter of moments, it had become a place of death.
What struck me about today’s Cheyenne shooting, besides the proximity, death, and carnage, was how similar events could occur in such different places. A college is a place where the young and hopeful prepare for their futures. A retirement home is a place for the old to live out their final days. But sin and death find both. No matter where we go, no facility, no government, no medical marvel can guarantee us safety or longevity. We are never guaranteed another day. This reality is ever-present, though we can typically suppress it. Until days like today.
Confronting the impending reality of death is difficult. If one is to dwell on it, it leads to inevitable despair. Deep inside, we know that this is not how things ought to be, and we long for something more. Even the secular evolutionist grieves at the loss of a relative or friend, even though their worldview would consider it just another turn in the evolutionary cycle.
The apostle Paul, in his masterful discourse in Romans 8, writes,
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (vv 22-23)
We groan because the pain and sorrow of sin and death is real. It infects and affects every part of our world and every part of our lives. Though we suppress the truth, though our sin nature blinds us to it, what we want and need is a restored relationship with the God who made us. The fall (Genesis 3) destroyed that.
Jesus, in His earthly ministry, was faced with this reality of death firsthand. Jesus’ friend Lazarus became ill and died. Upon Jesus’ arrival, He had this exchange with Martha, Lazarus’ grieving sister:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)
Following this conversation, Jesus would weep for Lazarus, showing that He was not indifferent to the sorrow around Him. Then, to demonstrate His authority over death, He raised Lazarus from the dead. But that was just a shadow of things to come, as Jesus would pay the penalty for sin in His own death, and declare ultimate victory over death in His resurrection (John 18-21).
Because Jesus has authority over death, because He has bore the penalty for sin, because He promises to be the resurrection and the life to His people, we do not have to live in fear or despair at the thought of death. Like Martha, if we are in Christ, we have hope of a future resurrection. A future with no more death, suffering, or pain. The same John who documented Jesus’ conversation with Martha, would later see and record this:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
Inevitably, we will all die. Hopefully it will be at a ripe, old age after a long, fulfilling life. But as today’s events in Cheyenne prove, it may not go that way. Christ was born, lived, died, and was raised so that we would not have to fear death, but could look forward to eternity with Him. However dangerous and unpredictable this world becomes, we can have hope. ♦