"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Genesis 50:20
"You that seek what life is in death, now find it air that once was breath.
New names unknown, old names gone: til time end bodies, but souls none. Reader!
Then make time, while you be, but steps to your eternity."
- Baron Brooke Fulke Greville, "Caelica 83" (From the book When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi)
As Greville so beautifully reminds us, we learned this weekend that we are mere steps from eternity. In the early hours of Saturday morning, Christina Grimmie lost her life at the hands of a gunman following a concert she had given at the Plaza Theater. She had performed along with Before You Exit, a band made up of three brothers - Conner, Riley and Toby McDonough - all members of First Presbyterian Church. I spent part of Saturday afternoon with these young men and members of their crew and family, encouraged by their faith and strength even in the midst of such trauma. God's presence was thick around them as some talked of the odd calm they felt in the terror, allowing them to think clearly and move others toward safety. Following the concert, Christina had joined hands with Joan's sister and niece and prayed with them. Less than three minutes later, she was in the arms of Jesus.
LIttle did I know at that moment that her death was only the beginning of the evil being visited upon our city. I woke yesterday morning to find that I was in some sort of parallel universe where 2 and 2 was 5 and life inexplicably no longer held value, a universe where a man would indiscriminately and cruelly snuff out the lives of 59 people, a number that will likely grow. The injured were rushed to the trauma center only blocks away where other members of our church rendered aid as doctors and nurses and healthcare workers. One said to me, "I will never forget the screams of anguish coming from the hallways."
It has been a painful, acute reminder of what we already knew: our world is broken. People are broken, and evil is very much a real, tangible entity. However, so is the power of the living God. It is precisely for days like these that we build and grow the Church, that we seek to build God's Kingdom, for it is the only answer for the evil we face. David reminds us in Psalm 14:1 "A fool says in his heart 'There is no God." We could be tempted towards a foolish conclusion - that God is not real for if He was, then surely He would have prevented this. However, where does that road lead? If there is no God, then there is no meaning or purpose or point to life. It means we were created by chance out of nothing. It means there is no such thing as right or wrong or any moral foundation. How could there be? Who has the authority to declare such? No one. It is utter emptiness, a black hole of despair.
And it means that all the suffering of these last days will never be answered. It means evils runs unchecked forever. Thankfully, every shred of evidence tells us there IS a God. Even in the deepest parts of every human being, I believe, a voice cries out, "There IS a God!" There IS a Creator. And if there is a Creator, then it stands to reason that He would love what He has made. Isn't that how we feel as parents? Why would God be different?
And as much as we hate it, pain is always our greatest teacher. In our pain, we are pliable. In our pain, we seek answers. In our pain, we search for comfort. And yes, even out of this evil, good will come. It has already come. Pain binds us together as a community. Pain causes people to stop and search and ask hard questions about meaning and eternity. And through it all, it offers us the opportunity to love and comfort and serve others well. There are mysteries in life, and why these two individuals chose to murder others is a question we will likely never have answered. Even so, God is still on the throne, and He is still calling His Church into the fray to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted, to speak peace, and to love sacrificially even as He has first loved us. Yes, these two men meant it for evil, but God, as only He can, will use it to draw people to Himself. He is still on the throne, and make no mistake, this is NOT the last chapter in the story......just read to the end of the Book.
Finally, many of you have asked what you can do to help. As you might imagine, our city officials are working diligently on the most pressing needs, so communication is difficult. However, if you're in Orlando, come pray with us on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at First Baptist. It's for the whole city. Spread the word. And then keep praying. It is the MOST important thing you can do. And then, wherever you are, do something quite simple: love others well. Love those who have different politics or different skin color or different sexual preferences or different religious beliefs. Even if we disagree, we can still love - and listen - and respect.
Even as we grieve, may the Lord God use this for the shaping of our hearts and the greater glory of His matchless Name.