First Presbyterian Church

A Developing Story

by Dr. Richard Gibbons


Last Monday morning many of us woke up to the carnage of what took place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was a sobering and unnerving experience. Yet it is not the first time in recent years that we have faced a senseless act of violence which has decimated families and caused so much unnecessary suffering. Such incidents are etched in our collective memories: Virginia Tech when 32 were killed; Sandy Hook Elementary when 27, mostly children, were taken; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando when 49 were killed; and here in South Carolina at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015, when Dylann Roof took nine lives at a Wednesday evening Bible study.


During the course of last week, numerous questions have been asked about the details surrounding the shooting in Las Vegas. In the early hours, a great deal of speculation surrounded the gunman’s motives and much was unclear. 


What was not unclear, however, was that this was a well prepared, premeditated intentional attack on innocent people enjoying an evening concert. Law enforcement officers subsequently discovered at least 23 firearms, including two rifles outfitted with scopes set up on tripods in front of two large windows, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. The police also retrieved 19 firearms, as well as explosives, and several thousand rounds of ammunition and “electronic devices” from Mr. Paddock’s home in Mesquite, Nevada.


When considering the horror of what took place, we naturally search for answers. We speculate about the shooter’s motives, asking, Was he connected to a terrorist organization? Was he a disgruntled employee? Was he religiously or politically motivated? His besieged and bewildered family had no answers to the question “Why?”
Yet amidst the television news casts and talk radio presence, we also need to express our prayerful concern for the families involved. The overwhelming sadness and mind-numbing grief that accompany an act of senseless violence on this scale remind us that the 57 families have lost husbands, wives, parents, grandparents, sons, daughters, and children, and may never fully adjust to what was intentionally inflicted upon them. For the 527 wounded victims, the physical injuries and emotional scarring will take a long time to process. Many may never get over it, but will simply learn to cope with it. A colleague writing earlier this week summed up what occurred by quoting NPR: “This is a developing story.” Families will live with the fallout of this barbaric act for many years to come. On Monday morning the President rightly gave credit to the first responders and medical staff; they also need our prayers as they come to terms with all they experienced. 


As we look back upon this week, much has been said and much needed to be said, but we also need to explore what was behind Stephen Paddock’s act of domestic terrorism. The Bible has much to say about the nature of humanity, the sanctity of human life, and the sense of loss and sadness when we lose a loved one. Yet it also teaches that when we come face to face with evil, it is essential to remember that sin is deceptive, enticing, enslaving, and entirely addictive. 


The planning involved in last Monday morning’s event took a considerable amount of time. This was not a spontaneous act of a madman, but rather the action of a mind focused on evil intent, intoxicated with self-importance, intent upon carnage and violence. There was not a single moment in the planning or execution of this atrocity when concern was extended to those whose lives would be so brutally taken. The concert-goers were treated with disdain and utter contempt. 


The Scriptures teach that throughout history, we have consistently underestimated the power, significance, and gravitas of sin. Sin manifests itself in domestic violence, human trafficking, drug and alcohol addiction, and so many other ways in our culture today. Yet the Scriptures also teach that we consistently underestimate the power, significance, and gravitas of God’s love. Such love transforms lives; births intimacy, peace, and contentment in a relationship with Christ; and shows individuals and societies that life is sacred and should never be treated with contempt or disdain. 


As a nation we now have choices. It would appear that movie theaters, malls, churches, schools, and concert venues are no longer as safe as they once were. But we still have choices. We can submit and surrender to fear and violence, or we can stand for the core values that define us as a nation. Those core values were on display early last Monday morning when individuals selflessly and sacrificially stepped forward to attend to the dead and the dying, the injured and the wounded, and those frightened for their lives. Those are the values that define who we are. Values embedded within our national character. Values that refine and define our culture.

There is so much more to our nation and our future than the evil that has manifested itself in recent years through mass shootings and the taking of innocent lives. John’s gospel reminds us in a powerful and poignant manner that “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19-20). Yet there is hope and a future. Later on in John’s Gospel we read, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). 


There has been a great deal of darkness and sadness this past week, but this is a developing story. Lives have been lost, maimed, and traumatized, but this is a developing story. Tears and fears have dominated and held captive our imaginations, but this is a developing story. Lives will be rebuilt, wounds will heal, souls will be renewed, and families will learn to love again because at the core of who we are, lies the love and grace of God. This is a nation’s developing story, for “In God We Trust.”

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