Thoughts from Doug Knox.
Righteousness and Evil in the Las Vegas Shooting
A Heinous, Hateful Act
I first heard about the Las Vegas shooting Monday morning when I was about to go out to exercise. Patty sat on the couch, scrolling through news headlines on the Web. I listened numbly as she recited the details about what had happened—the concert, the size of the crowd, the shooter, the speculation that this might be the largest mass murder in the history of the United States.
My first thought was that this required prayer, but I have found myself unable to pray. The reasons are simple. On the one hand, the act is just too personal for me to fathom. A bomb would be one thing—remote detonated and impersonal. But a shooter armed with modified semiautomatic rifles spraying military grade shells into a crowd of twenty-two thousand? How can a single human being commit such barbarism?
The other reason that I was unable to pray is that the shooter has died by his own hand. In committing suicide before police could arrest him, he cut off any way to pray for justice. I simply do not know what to say on behalf of the victims’ families. The usual responses are platitudes. They have no way to find comfort.
A Worshiper’s Response to Evil
Psalm 11 offers a glimpse into to evil on this scale. It is a Psalm of David and unfolds in two parts. In the first section, the wicked have mowed down the righteous and cut off any possible recourse for justice. They are unstoppable. The situation is so severe that someone has given David counsel to count his losses and flee. Here is what David writes about the situation.
In the LORD I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
they have fitted their arrow to the string
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
David’s circumstances are eerily similar to ours. A sniper has taken modern weapons to shoot in the dark at those who had no more agenda than to enjoy a country music concert. He placed innocent people in a trap. We feel like David. Our moral foundations are in limbo, and we are helpless.
The words, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” represent our situation as much as David’s.
The advice to give up, however, is the counsel of despair, and David refuses to cave. He may be helpless, but he knows that God is not. His reply reflects a deeper point of view.
The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The LORD tests the righteous
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who does violence.
These words speak as strongly to us as they did to David. Stephen Paddock may have circumvented legal justice, but he cannot escape the judge of the cosmos.
Long before the mass shootings or the injustices that David experienced, the Lord established his right to judge. No one can thwart his plan, even by suicide, because his right to judge extends beyond the grave. The psalm concludes with these words:
Let [God] rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
A Furious End for the Wicked
The psalm understands two crucial truths. First, the Lord is righteous—not just passively as a good God, but actively as the judge of the living and the dead. He has set his mission to judge the wicked. When David called for fire, sulfur, and a scorching wind to greet the wicked, he meant it metaphorically. The man who committed indiscriminate mass murder Sunday night now experiences these things literally.
Stephen Paddock may have circumvented human justice, but he could not outdistance his Creator. God, the righteous Judge, has acted gloriously in introducing this mass murderer to his eternal state. Stephen’s Paddock thought he would escape with his suicide. His torment transcends whatever satisfaction he must have anticipated.
A Glorious End for the Righteous
The second conclusion anticipates the hope that we have as believers. The psalm concludes with the words, “The upright shall behold his face.” The Old Testament, saints looked forward to the day that they would be able to fellowship with their God with joy.
The New Testament gives us a fuller revelation into our future with the Lord. We will be made perfect in anticipation for eternity. Evil in the world will be eliminated once for all, and a new heavens and earth will wait for us. God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes. Those who mourn now will see with redeemed eyes and rejoice at God’s plan that uses even heinous acts to show his glory.