Like many of you I woke up Monday morning to the news of the horrific shooting out in Las Vegas. The recent numbers are 59 people killed and 527 more injured from this violent act. Those figures are rather staggering ... yet at the same time I'm somewhat amazed that more lives weren't lost. Many of us have listened to the various stories coming out of this ... stories of incredible sorrow and loss as well as those of heroism. We've shed tears and prayed for those families whose lives will never be the same. We've likely become frustrated with those on both ends of the spectrum who wish to politicize this tragedy for their own agendas. We've wondered what we would do if we were ever in such a situation. We've reflected on the fragility and transitory nature of human life. And hopefully somewhere in this mix, we've looked to our God who meets us in weakness, pain, and sorrow.
One of the things I've personally been pondering is what would move this man, Stephen Paddock, to commit such an atrocity. Why would he do such a thing? What was he thinking? What happened to push him to this point? What was going on in his mind? I've read some of the information about him - a rather reclusive 64 year old accountant with no criminal record, a licensed pilot with a history of some high stakes gambling, not involved in any significant political or religious activity, and whose father was a notorious criminal once on the FBI's 10 most wanted list back in the '70's. Perhaps he inherited a "criminal" gene from his dad ... who knows. None of that really explains the mind of such a maniacal and savage murderer. He just doesn't fit any profile so where does one go to better understand this sort of mind/heart/being?
After thinking about this for a short while I've concluded where I should do more research - my own heart. While I can't fathom actually doing what this man did, I do admit that my sin is just as horrific, violent, and wicked ... only mine is a bit more sophisticated. And though I've never been charged, tried, or convicted of mass murder (or even a single murder) the Holy Spirit convicts me from God's Word that I'm absolutely guilty of such atrocity. Though every culture in human history has condemned the act of physical murder, Jesus came along and raised the bar rather substantially:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment." But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, "You fool!" will be liable to the hell of fire. - Matthew 5:21-22
How many of us (even as professing believers) are content to hate, be angry with, or insult a group of people because of their skin color? ... country of origin? ... political affiliation? ... football team allegiance? ... socioeconomic status? ... morality? ... education? ... etc. What is this other than mass murder? If we want to figure out how Stephen Paddock operates we must look to our own hearts which God describes as "deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). So while I must truly hate the actions of this Las Vegas shooter I must equally learn to hate my own sin and murderous thoughts, motives, and intent toward others.
Now here's the frustrating part - Jeremiah ends this same verse with, "who can understand it?" clearly implying that we're not going to fully comprehend the wickedness of the human heart ... whether our own or that of some convicted criminal. But our hope isn't in just understanding, educating, and regulating the patterns of the sinful heart. Rather our hope is in the glorious truth of the Gospel that God grants us a new heart, and it's from this new heart that repentance, faith, and obedience flows. So what's keeping me from being the next Stephen Paddock? I'm certainly capable ... I have enough sin and anger and hate to qualify as a mass murderer. But my hope is in the work of God in me, His gracious gift of a new life in Christ, and the working of His Spirit reminding me who I really am. This is why I need the Gospel every day ... this is why we need to remind each other every day of this Gospel ... this is why those who don't know Christ need to hear this Gospel.