Tragedy in My Own Neighborhood

dead body outline Last week, a terrible tragedy struck in two homes just a stone’s throw from my own house. As of the writing of this article, one man is currently in custody on nineteen criminal charges, including the murder of five people. When I first heard of this terrible crime, my first thought, in fact my overriding thought the entire week, has been for the safety of my family. While that is a right and good thing to be concerned for, I have to confess, I have given little thought to the soul of the man who committed the murders. I have given thought to his crime, to the court system that will soon try and likely convict him, and the to application of justice against one who would harm innocent victims in this manner. Yet, at a time like this, I believe it is right that, as Christians, we should very concerned about the judgment of God which rests on the soul of this man.

A similar tragedy occurred less than two years ago in another city near my home when a man entered a restaurant and opened fire. Several people were hurt and killed, including three National Guard soldiers. In the wake of that tragedy, a man had responded to an online news article by stating he hoped the murderer would never be forgiven by God and would forever burn in hell. The anger in that statement shook me to the core. It is right for us to feel a righteous anger at the unjust murder of any person. But for someone to wish the eternal, conscious torment of Hell on a person startled me. I believe the author of that comment did not understand his own sinfulness and the necessity of God’s justice to be applied against himself one day. Had he understood the righteousness and holiness of God, he would have seen his own anger and hatred for what it was, a sin against the God who he wished would cause the murder to be eternally condemned. I wrote my thoughts on that tragedy then, asking those who profess Christ as Lord to consider our reactions to such terrible crimes and to pray for those who commit them.

I want to be careful not to simply repeat what I wrote then; however, certain themes and principles bear repetition. When I heard of the horrendous nature of this crime, I could not help but feel anger at the loss of life and pouring of such evil near my home. Yet, according the word of God, all of us are wicked in the eyes of God. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Every person in this world possesses a heart of wickedness, born under the curse of the original sin of our federal representative, Adam. When he rebelled against God in the garden, all of Adam’s descendants were forever tainted with sin. Thus, all that we can conceive of and do is affected by our self serving, sinful nature. Nothing we can do of ourselves will ever be “good.”

In fact, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3: 9-18:

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Quoting from the Psalms, Paul makes the case that there is nothing about us that is good in the eyes of God. Even when we claim we believe in God and are trying to obey Him, Paul makes it clear that none of us actually are seeking after the true God. Because of our sin nature, we in fact create idolatrous versions of God. We seek to worship a god of our own creation, one who either will not take our sin seriously, or one which will allow us to do some sort of work to personally make up for it. Neither is the true God, but is in fact a god of self. We are worshiping our own perceived innate goodness, thus proving we are the very wicked sinners who Paul is writing about. Outside the regenerative work of Jesus Christ, we cannot truly seek after and worship God. Therefore, we will pursue the wicked desires of our own heart while professing our own self righteousness along the way.

Matthew 5:21-22 records the words of Jesus who said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Chris Himself declared that a person who harbors anger and insults another person will be judged the same as one who commits murder. In other words, whenever you have been angry at or felt hatred for another human being, God has seen you as wicked a sinner as the man who killed five people in my town. That is applicable to each and every one of us, myself included. That should terrify us. When I am horrified that my neighborhood was rocked by such evil, I should also remember that, in the eyes of God, I am as terrible a sinner as the one who committed the evil. God judges the thoughts and intents of the heart, not just the actions.

This brings me back to my original statement. When I thought of the tragedy committed by this man, I gave no thought to his eternal state before the Lord. I focused solely on the crime and the danger to my family. As a Christian, I know that I have sinned in the areas of anger and hatred. Yet, God in His mercy has forgiven me through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I rightly deserve His wrath, but Christ took the righteous judgment of God upon Himself for me at the cross. He suffered and died for the sins of my heart. He was buried, yet rose again, defeating death and granting me eternal life. If I know that I was deserving of such condemnation, but was forgiven, then I must desire to see even the most vile and wicked murderer to receive the precious gift of the gospel.

Does this mean that I should not be concerned about the terrible events in my neighborhood, and shouldn’t bother taking steps to protect my family. Certainly not. Knowing that I live in the midst of a wicked and perverse people, wisdom dictates that I be aware of the dangers that surround us and take to the proper steps to keep my family from harm. But I must also desire to bring the precious gospel to that same wicked and perverse people. I was a wicked sinner just as they were, yet I was saved by the blood of Christ. If I ever believe that somehow the crimes of someone are beyond the saving grace of Jesus, or that, because that criminal was so vicious, I simply could never share the gospel with them, then I prove myself an even greater sinner than the murderer. I write this to encourage my brethren to look at the tragedies that surround you in light of the gospel. Certainly, we can feel fear, sadness and even righteous anger. But never let us see ourselves as better than those who committed these crimes. Let us pray for them and even go to great lengths to bring the life saving gospel to their perishing souls.

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