Tens of thousands poured into a Las Vegas music festival totally unprepared for fifteen minutes of hell. But hell is what they saw, and heard, and felt. Hundreds were injured. At least 59 are dead, savagely ripped from this world seemingly at random.
Sunday, October 1, 2017, saw the deadliest mass shooting in American history — a sentence that has become all too common. Orlando last June. Sandy Hook before that. Previously Virginia Tech. Random acts of violence have become terrifyingly familiar.
At this point, we know little about the gunman who opened fire on the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. We know he was 64, that he was an accountant, that he lived just outside of the city, and that he had no criminal record. Information will be collected and disseminated, but we already know enough from this scene to say that whatever else he was, he was a horrible, violent, and evil man, who now faces a horror far worse than the one he unleashed.
At this point, we also know very little about the 59 he murdered — each life an unexpected and unsearchable tragedy. We haven’t yet met the spouses, the children, the loved ones left behind. We do not know them, and the extent of their heartache, but our hearts break for them as we feel just a faint part of their pain. We pray for God to deliver the comfort, healing, and hope each of them so desperately needs now, most likely in ways they’ve never needed before. We pray that heaven would fall on Las Vegas.
59 Sudden Tragedies
Father, we do grieve. You know each of the 59, and you know every life falling apart because of their loss.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18). Who knows how many of the victims were hidden in Christ while they had nowhere to hide? We do know God was near — all-knowing, sovereign, compassionate — ready to protect his own. And he is close by now, ready to sustain and help the brokenhearted.
He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72:12–14)
When God looks out on a war zone like the one on Las Vegas Boulevard, he despises the violence, and he prizes the lives of the innocent, especially those who cry out to him in faith. Their blood is precious to the infinitely valuable One.
However much Las Vegas has become an international symbol for iniquity, and however much hell invaded the city for those fifteen minutes, God through the prayers of his people may yet flood the evil with heaven in the coming days and weeks and months — through the hope and love his people show one another and those in need. He loves to reveal his stunning mercy in the wake of sudden tragedy.
May every citizen and guest of Las Vegas, and everyone watching from a distance, not “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,” but may we all know that “God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance” (Romans 2:4). May the lasting legacy of this tragedy be mercy, and not evil.
The End of Violence
Father, execute your perfect justice in your perfect timing. While you reveal your mercy to the hurting, we trust that you will terrorize terror.
God has compassion on the vulnerable and afflicted, and he violently opposes the evil. When terror strikes, we are not helpless. Our God is not caught off guard, and he is never late. He is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), but he will sovereignly see first that it is repaid, and that all its worst horror is forced to serve those that love him.
If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends. (Psalm 7:12–16)
The violent always receive the worst of their violence. The evil in Vegas was not repaid through the pitiful, cowardly escape hatch of suicide. No, this man only escaped into hell. He sat in ambush, and now he stands in judgment.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (Psalms 10:8–11).
God has seen, and heard, and felt last night’s terror, and it will not go unpunished. “The Lord hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalms 11:5). When confronted with violent terror like this, we respond in faith, not hate, because God himself will have his vengeance (Romans 12:19).
Terror No More
Father, we wait for the day when you will put a final end to all terror.
As we wait for more information, we pray the weighty promises of Psalms 10:17–18, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” Terror had its time last night, and it will strike again — but one day never again.
Mass shootings will not always happen. Those who assault the innocent and remain unrepentant will spend eternity wishing their hell lasted only fifteen minutes. And those who run to Christ will soon enough forget how to fear.