Should the evil misuse of liberty mean we give up liberty?
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THE MASS SHOOTING IN A FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, it’s with a great deal of sadness that we must go back to a story — seems like we’ve recounted this issue time and time again. Last Wednesday, an alleged gunman was accused of killing at least 17 people when he opened fire at a Florida high school as panicked students fled in a bloodbath. He was charged Thursday morning with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
DR. REEDER: Heartbreaking situation. I’m sitting here trying to think of parents who sent their kids off to school that day and they just don’t come home. A 19-year-old man comes in, having planned out what he was going to do all the way to the pulling of a fire alarm in order to get as many kids out into the hallway as possible. When I think of the assistant football coach who shielded the students and saved some lives at the cost of his own — cases like that may have been repeated that will yet come out.
DON’T DISCOUNT OR RATIONALIZE EVIL
And then, on the other hand, you’ve got someone holding a weapon, purchasing a weapon in order to inflict that kind of damage. He had been banned to the point that he was not allowed to come in with a knapsack and others had even made comments, “If there’s ever a shooting at this school, we know who will have done it.” Footprints in his social media showed this fascination with death and violence and weapons. Everybody says, “Well, if you see something, say something.”
Well, the reality is a lot of people have seen it and said it and precautions had been taken, which drives us from a Christian world and life view to try to do what’s inevitable: Because we’re made in the image of God, when something happens of the nature of evil — and that’s what this is — we’re always asking the question, “Why did this happen?” and we’re always wanting to know what can we do to stop it and what happened to cause it.
HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS RESPOND?
How should Christians respond to a moment like this? Well, our first moment is to restrain ourselves from asking the “Why?” and the “What do we do?” and the attempt to try to explain it by fixing blame somewhere other than the one who did it. We restrain ourselves from that in order to do what we’re called to do and that is minister to the victims of such a horrific act of brokenness and sin and evil. We want to rush to them to minister to them.
Tom, as you know, I pastored in south Florida. I am aware of the churches in the area and the pastors in the place like Coral Ridge Presbyterian and First Presbyterian Church — Coral Springs, I know you have a relationship with the pastor there as well — and I know they are all responding and all available.
Let me give you three Ps, if I can, that would identify what the Christians there are doing, and should be doing, and what we would want to influence others to do.
- Pray for those victims that the God of grace and comfort will come into their life, into a broken world, bring a peace that passes understanding, one that we cannot rationalize or understand that only He can bring in only those places that He can go into the soul and the heart and the depths of someone’s being who has lost a loved one in not only a despicable but seemingly unexplainable act such as this.
- The ministry of presence — that you’re there with them. Whenever you’re with people that are hurting, sometimes we feel like we have to start saying something to help them understand it. Many times, that’s really counterproductive. Now, if they ask you a question, certainly you try to respond — because a lot of people, when something like this happens, they want to process it verbally — but I don’t think believers should initiate verbal processing. I think they initiate their presence. The holy hug, the holy kiss, touch upon the arm and the shoulders, and just “I’m here with you.”
- Petition: “How can I help you?” Whenever you have that kind of disorder and death and mayhem, the power of the Gospel, the power of prayer, the power of presence and the power of petition, “How can I help you?”
GRACE COMBATS EVIL INTENTIONS IN HEARTS
Cain murdered Abel because of his anger, rebellion against God because God did not do what he wanted Him to do. And, in his rebellion against God, attempted to make his own gods and sought his own significance in life, even at the expense of his brother Abel and, therefore, murdered his brother with cold premeditated murder “in the field.”
This young man has a track record of anger, depression, violence, fascination with instruments of violence — that’s indicating what is happening in his heart and the only thing that can retard the evil intentions of a heart is the grace of God.
And the grace of God comes in two streams. One is the redeeming grace of God, whereby people’s lives are changed. Prior to my conversion, I was a blasphemous, profane, immoral and violent person and God graciously changed me by His redeeming grace. But I remember I was never as violent as I sometimes wanted to be and that’s because God’s common grace had restrained me and the instrument of common grace is the lifestyle of believers penetrating a community and its values that retards what people would want to be.
COURSENED CULTURE BREEDS, NOT REPELS, UNTHINKABLE ACTS
There is no doubt in my mind that a death culture that markets video games, whereby people become coarsened to death; a culture that has comedians who make profane jokes about aborted babies; a culture that is embracing active mandated euthanasia; a culture that despises the imperfect children born with special needs; a culture that is fascinated with the satisfaction and gratification of self at the cost of anybody and everything — that culture cannot retard these kinds of acts and they cannot make these unthinkable. On the contrary, our culture is making these things thinkable and plausible.
We, as Christians, need to ask ourselves, “How do we respond?” Immediately move into the lives of victims in a moment like this, pray for them, be present with them and petition them to find out how you can help them.
Then, secondly, we need to be involved in evangelism and discipleship so that people are brought to Christ and they’re not just professors but possessors of Christ and begin to follow Christ and live for Christ, which then makes the Christian and the Christian church salt and light that would retard the presence of evil, would penetrate the culture of evil and light that would retard and dispel the darkness of evil.
LIBERTY IS ESSENTIAL BUT CAN BE USED BY EVIL
Finally, Tom, let me say the dilemma that we are in in a nation that prizes and embraces certain rights of freedom, you’ll notice that these things don’t happen in cultures of tyranny — government removes all their liberties and controls them. And, when you prize liberty, you open up yourself to these kinds of perversions of liberty where people take their liberties in order to make plans.
This is a evil, senseless act, yet you will note that the man who did this was not stupid — he planned his evil. The evil makes no sense, but senseless evil is done by people who plan it and, when they plan it, they take advantage of their liberties and they take advantage of others who are living in a culture that prizes liberty.
Is the answer for the government to come in and take away liberties for our security? Our forefathers had another answer. It was called the First Amendment of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. That’s why they all said, “We’re a country that prizes liberty governed by law, but only moral people respect the law as king and we need the free movement of the church and religion in order to enhance respect for the law, which is what curtails the liberties from becoming opportunities to promote that which is evil and despicable.”
The church is not a place that you give liberty one hour a week in one place for people to believe something in the privacy of their heart, mind and home. We need the free practice of religion in order to bring a sensibility of morality to curtail the evil that is born into everyone’s heart.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.