When will we realize it?
Tragedies like the shooting being relayed to us today in which as of 1:25PM 58 people had been killed and over 500 had been injured are devastating. For all those who lost loved ones, their lives will never be the same. My heart goes out to them and all others affected. It is a time for mourning and grieving.
It is also a time for deep reflection. The news cycle will move on the, the number of Facebook posts asking us to pray for Las Vegas will decrease, and we will again grow numb due the comfort of modern living to the pain and horror of what happened.
I fear this reality. Why? I believe America has a fundamental problem.
I believe it lies deep at the heart of America’s origins, and it has reared its ugly head throughout our short history. It is a problem that has refused to heed the cautionary warnings of a Rabbi many years ago who said, “Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”
It is worth stating here before we consider further that I am in no way ascribing (and neither was the Teacher) individual blame to the victims of these types of heinous shootings.
Instead, I am asking us to reflect more deeply on the condition of our own hearts and on the history of our nation.
The United States was founded through an armed up rising resulting in a revolutionary war. It expanded its borders through more wars fought against England, Mexico, and Native Americans. It eradicated slavery at the cost of a civil war that claimed 620,000 lives. In modern times, it has participated in two world wars and initiated and maintained military conflicts in the Vietnam and Middle East (ongoing).
I would imagine most of these conflicts were seen by the majority of Americans at the time as justified (and surely some may have been to some extent). America seems to have always been willing to stand up for itself and protect itself against perceived threats both domestically and abroad. The question is at what cost?
What are the results of a human heart being discipled by an ethos that asserts one’s fundamental rights to bear arms AND pursue one’s own happiness? Stop. Think about that one more time. The right to possess violent weaponry and the right to pursue your own property. Then consider this reality - homicide rates in the United States are seven times higher when compared to other high income countries across the globe.[i]
Is any human heart capable of being granted both the ability to kill AND the permission to pursue one’s own life, liberty, and happiness? It is a dangerous cocktail, and one that those who drink from seem to fail to control.
Those that study the scriptures should not be surprised. The ancient texts state the following:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
“From within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…” (Mark 7:21)
Given the condition of the human heart and reality of these tragedies and the weapons used in them, we may be quick to discern gun control is necessary step. I personally believe that may well indeed be a measure worth implementing, but the reality is that restraint cannot heal the root of the problem. It will not deal with the fundamental problem America faces – pride.
Pride is the attitude that says, “I will ascend… I will make myself like the Most High.”[ii] It is the prideful heart that desires the power to choose one’s own destiny and future, to sip from the dangerous cocktail.
It wishes to be the creator and pursuer of life rather than the recipient of it. Pride demands the right to follow its own definition of good (think back to the first garden) and the power to take life for one’s self. Is it possible we live in a nation that was founded with this desire (knowingly or unknowingly) at the core of its DNA?
With this question in mind, I am left to openly wonder if the rights and privileges American’s demand are compatible with the way Jesus offered. A way that demands we choose humility over pride, poverty over riches, service over comfort, and grace over our rights.
A way that welcomes those who mourn and offers them an alternative, swordless kingdom. A way that opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. A way that promises healing for those that humble themselves and pray and discern their own fundamental problem.
Of course, it is easy to say that others need to attend to this process of re-orientation and repentance, that our nation would be better if those on the “other side” were more “enlightened.” However, we’d be ignoring other warnings from the Rabbi if we did so.
Instead may we heed his warnings, take the time to reflect discernibly on our nation’s past and present, and therefore by God’s grace have the ability to see the true condition of our own hearts. It is this personal reflection and action that may awaken the conscience of a nation to realize its own fundamental problem.
[ii] Isaiah 14:14