A reflection on Orlando

June 21, 2016

Click on a photo below to enlarge.

Last Sunday, in between services, we held a brief prayer and remembrance service for the victims of the Orlando massacre and their families and loved ones.

I began by reading Psalm 121 (“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?”) and Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5. Then I spoke extemporaneously about our reaction to Orlando, and events like them, and how we can understand them in light of the gospel.

I said that when something like the mass shooting in Orlando happens, we often ask why God allows this kind of evil. In Jesus’ day, people asked the same question. In fact, in Luke 13, Jesus himself refers to two tragic events that were in the “news” of his day: a mass killing of Galilean Jews by Pontius Pilate and a freakish accident that killed 18 in one fell swoop. People asked Jesus, “Why did this happen?”—assuming, as people often did back then (see John 9:2-3), that these events were acts of God’s judgment.

Jesus rejects that interpretation in both cases. If God were judging them for their sins, why would God not also be judging the people in his audience? They, too, were sinners who deserve God’s judgment and wrath. Therefore, their response—and our response today—to these kinds of tragedies should be to remind ourselves that our own lives are no less fragile than the victims, and that we all need to repent while we have the opportunity.

Most importantly, we need to remind ourselves of God’s great love for us: out of this love, he made a way for sinners like us to find forgiveness, eternal life, and future resurrection.

Echoing words from last Sunday’s sermon, I said, “When Christ comes in final victory, all evil will be judged and avenged; the scales of justice will be balanced; swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. And he will wipe away every tear and death will be no more. We look forward to that day.”

We handed out and released 49 white balloons, each representing a victim of the massacre.

21 Responses to “A reflection on Orlando”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    All good points, especially that all of us deserve to die. But I think it is still necessary to recall the OT motif that sin brings punishment. Also: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked–for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Often not until Judgment Day, but there are times when God “makes examples,” such as he did with Sodom and Achan and Ananias and Sapphira and Herod–as Jude says of Sodom in particular. So, I don’t really know why God allowed this to happen, and it could have been that it is simply part of “life in this fallen world” that some people get wiped out by fanatics and the like. But I don’t think we can necessarily rule out the possibility of “judgment for sin” in an instance like this where there is clearly gross sin. Maybe so, maybe not–probably impossible to know in this lifetime.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I agree—and in another sense, all death, whenever and however it arrives, is judgment for sin. But in these two cases, at least, Jesus says that God wasn’t singling out anyone. Moreover, to speculate about such things takes our attention away from the most important point: we are sinners who need to repent while we still have time. Jesus’ words here could hardly be less sentimental. But they’re true.

      • Amy B Says:

        I can hardly believe I am wading in again, but Tom can you clarify exactly what you mean here? I promise I am not here to argue but I do want to understand!

        “But I don’t think we can necessarily rule out the possibility of ‘judgment for sin’ in an instance like this where there is clearly gross sin.”

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I don’t think there can be any doubt if someone takes what the Bible says seriously that it prohibits homosexuality and calls it an “abomination.” That is New Testament as well as Old (such as in Romans 1 and Jude), so that cannot be dismissed as “under the old law,” as some prohibitions in the OT might be. God says, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” In Genesis Sodom was burned up with fire due to homosexuality, and Jude says that this happened “as an example.” So, I am saying that it is possible that what happened was judgment from God. But I don’t know that it was. And whether it was or was not, in this instance, I am not at all trying to justify the killer, much less suggest that any Christian should take such action. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Our job as Christians is to “love our enemies,” and let God take care of punishing sin. All I am saying is that it is “possible” that God was “punishing sin” here.

      • Amy B Says:

        Got it, thanks for clarifying. Brent, you agree with that?

      • brentwhite Says:

        I would put it like this: I don’t believe that any of the Orlando victims was a worse sinner than I am. If God were going to judge and punish me for my sins, he would be justified in doing so. “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” as the psalmist says. I’m thankful that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Amy, I see things a little different from Brent here. It is true that “all have sinned,” and “the wages of sin is death.” So, without the grace of God through Christ accepted by faith, all of us would, indeed, deserve hell. But that is not the same thing as saying, “All sins are the same.” I am not sure that Brent would disagree with me as to that, but in any event Jesus challenged the Pharisees for meticulous tithing but leaving aside the “weightier” matters of the law. Scripture also says that he that sins unknowingly will be beaten with few stripes, whereas he who sins knowingly will be beaten with many stripes. This leads me to believe that there will be different “levels,” for lack of a better term, of punishment in hell, just as conversely there will be different levels of rewards in heaven. See the “teaching and doing” statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

        All that to say, in my estimation there are different “levels” of sexual sin, even though all are wrong and deserve punishment. Thus (again this is “my opinion,” not “gospel”), I believe staring lustfully is a sin (as Jesus points out), but rape and child molestation are “worse” sins. So I am not sure and not attempting to resolve the issue, but it seems to me from the way homosexuality is treated and spoken of in scripture (including Romans 1) that it is a “weighty” sin, a sin of greater “depravity” (again Romans 1). For this reason fire fell on Sodom (Genesis and Jude). Again, without being privy to the “counsel room” in heaven, I do not know the “why’s and “wherefores” of what happens in this life, but it may be that this particular incident was intended in part to show that God is opposed to homosexuality. (And maybe not–again, I am stating “my opinion merely.”)

      • brentwhite Says:

        I certainly don’t believe that “all sins are equal,” either. It’s just that I’m guilty of enough of them to know how thoroughly sinful I am. I have a very low anthropology and little faith in projects of human “progress.” (Scare quotes, I know.) Sin corrupts everything. As Kierkegaard said, “In relation to God we are always in the wrong.”

      • Amy B Says:

        So Tom hedges his bets “I don’t know why this happened.” Well, except: “But maybe because of gay.” Brent first says “I agree.” Then dials it down a bit with “We are all sinners.” Tom says, “Some are worse than others.” Brent agrees. So we are back where we started. you all think there’s a pretty good chance that the murder of 49 innocent people was God’s punishment for gay sin. Now I know between the two of you, you’ll find a lawyerly or seminarian way of saying I got that summary wrong. 😉

      • Amy B Says:

        Sorry, take the “innocent” out of my summary: that’s gonna be a sticking point with you both.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    I like the story about the man, blind from birth, and the question to Jesus; “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

    In Matthew Henry’s commentary, he says, “Christ says of uncommon calamities, that they are not always to be looked on as special punishments of sin; sometimes they are for the glory of God, and to manifest his works.”

    One would not be foolish to ask, how is God glorified by such a thing? The answer is difficult, and not acceptable to many nay-sayers. The answer can best be found by attending a “Special Olympics” day, or by examining a life like that of Joni Ericsson Tada. The long term effects/results of the Orlando tragedy are yet to be seen. Maybe Omar Mateen “meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”.

    There is also the answer that, “In this life you will suffer many trials”. One of the main results of the Fall was that a perfect world of Eden was rendered imperfect. Only Jesus can/will bring that imperfection to an end. In the meantime, we live with our “ups and downs”. Some do it in Faith, and some do it in misery.

  3. Domini Re-Darling Says:

    that’s was an awesome tribute to the victims and their families.  thanks for doing that.

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    I’ve been wondering; if this had happened exactly the same, except that it was a “regular night club” would the reaction be different? If Matteen had yelled Allah Akbar and called the authorities saying he was doing it for Allah and ISIS, would we still be asking what his motive was? Nearly 100 of our citizens were killed or injured by a religious fanatic. He was obviously also deranged. One would have to be in order to do this. Mateen also scouted out Disney World, from what I understand. I think we are missing the main point here.

  5. Amy B Says:

    You lads sure do love you some scare quotes!

    • Grant Essex Says:

      “Scare Quotes”? Elaborate pls

      • Amy B Says:

        Here, let me Google that for you:

        scare quotes
        noun
        plural noun: scare quotes; plural noun: scarequotes

        quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.

        example: “putting the term “global warming” in scare quotes serves to subtly cast doubt on the reality of such a phenomenon”

  6. Grant Essex Says:

    Humph! Thanks Amy. Learn something new every day. 🙂

    I put quotation marks around “gun control” to point out that I was referring to the current debate in Congress, and in the media. Didn’t know that it was a subtle way to cast doubt. It’s not a phenomenon, but rather a concept found in the Constitution, which is subject to debate.

    I also use quotation marks, because this site doesn’t allow me to use italics, or to underline for emphasis.

    My point was that the availability of guns didn’t cause Orlando. Hate and religious fanaticism did. I believe that this guy would have found a way to get a weapon under any regulatory system.

  7. Tom Harkins Says:

    Amy, I don’t know that I am “hedging my bets.” The fact is, there are a lot of complex things in life with numbers of factors at play, so it is difficult to know what is “foremost” in God’s mind about letting x event happen. Undoubtedly God had more than one thing in mind. I guess my point is, punishing sin is, in fact, one thing that God “has in mind” in deciding how things play out in various instances, among other things. And this was notable sin. So, I am just saying that it would certainly be “legitimate” for that to be one reason why this happened the way it did. My “hedging” is simply a mark of humility that I don’t profess to know God’s “divine counsel” as to why certain events happen.


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