Another shooting, another city, another community grieving and learning how to pick up the pieces — except this time, the community is ours, the one in which we’re raising our four young children, all seven and under.
The crime scene was a Walmart that we have been to frequently. This is our community, our neighbors, our backyard that was ruthlessly attacked. Our first responders, our hospitals, our law enforcement, our police officers are now on the front lines. In one short morning, twenty people lost their lives and twenty-six more were injured, some critically who are still fighting for their lives.
Completely ambushed and unexpected, precious and innocent lives — from small children to the elderly — were violently overturned, with loved ones suddenly gone. Another ordinary Saturday turned into a crime scene that was fueled by hate. A dark cloud hangs over the city of El Paso.
‘The Safest City in America’
I grew up in the safest city in America. This past weekend that title, which we have worn so proudly for so long, was ripped out of our hands. Reading about shootings in America is tragically common, but when the terror strikes your own city, you breathe a different breath of tragedy. It becomes real to you — no longer just a news story.
Although we live and grieve in a very broken land, in Christ we are citizens of a better country (Philippians 3:20). So, what do we tell our young kids watching, the next generation who is now learning the horrors of sin’s consequences firsthand, some of them for the first time?
As a child, I never had to fathom something like what happened on Saturday. We practiced fire drills as kids, not active shooter drills. When my kids hear the stories and see the images, as they try to piece together the tragedy of this massacre and understand, I want to point them back to a hope that is not found in government or laws or policies or ideas and plans of “safety.” Although important, all of that will ultimately leave us empty and searching again. Our hope comes from knowing who God is — that he “is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1) — and what he has done to save sinners like us.
1. Murder begins in hearts like ours.
Murder and hate start in the heart. James writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:1–2). The anger that is uncontrolled and acted upon first begins deep inside of us. Our problem with our culture, with our world, is in our hearts. Sin is the problem. From the very first murder, a brother became jealous, hated, and then acted on his anger, shedding his own brother’s blood. Murder begins in broken hearts like ours. The Lord warned Cain (and all of us after him), “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
2. God saw every single bullet.
God is not absent in the face of tragedy. King David, writing from a Philistine prison, says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle” (Psalm 56:8). If you are in Christ, your God hears every cry and catches every tear. Every bullet that was fired, every ounce of blood that was lost, every last breath, God was there. In our deepest sorrow and pain, the God of the universe is in the center of the chaos. David writes elsewhere, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
3. This world is not our home.
In the ocean of despair, we have “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” Jesus Christ (Hebrews 6:19). This world will never make sense, because it is so horribly shattered, fractured, and hurting. Mass shootings of innocent lives is just one example of the brokenness. Families who were planning to send students back to school are now having to plan for funerals.
Creation itself groans for now (Romans 8:22), while Satan has his day, wreaking pain and suffering in every direction. But we can always find refuge in Jesus. We have hope, eternal hope, to share with those who are wounded emotionally, mentally, and physically from such heinous acts. When tragedy strikes, we know “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
4. God himself will judge the shooter.
Saturday’s shooting was not the end. The murderer will not have the victory or the glory that he tried to steal. Sin ends in death. Judgment will be served, and every act of violence will be accounted for on the day of judgment (Psalm 10:14–15). God is holy and just and righteous, and for his name’s sake, complete justice will be served (Hebrews 10:30).
5. Every life is immeasurably valuable.
The victims are more than victims. All the people who lost their lives were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). They all have eternal souls. Despite their sin, they were innocent of this man’s bullets.
I want my children to know that they are made in the image of God, and that their neighbor is too. We value each and every human life because of what each and every life says about God — no matter their language, ethnicity, worldview, or religion. Every life matters to God, and therefore to us.
6. We hope in what we cannot see.
For now, and for many days to come in our town, we grieve with those who grieve (Romans 12:15). We look for the light to shine through in these dark moments, and we put our hope and trust not in our safety or in our security or in our laws, but in our Jesus. As we cry, we remember,
This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17–18)
From the heartbroken neighborhoods of El Paso, we look beyond the horror we have been forced to see to the hope of what we cannot see yet.