Last Sunday, June 12th, Omar Mateen, open fired in a gay night club in Orlando killing 49 people and injuring 50 others. It is hard to make any sense of such a brutal and violent act of terror and murder. As I reflect on this horrific event and try to consider how our faith speaks to such tragedy, three things come to mind.
Mourn with those who mourn
The Bible says that we are to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) In this time of great human loss, we know there are families and friends of the victims whose lives have been devastated and changed forever. To most of us, this was a national tragedy, but to others it was a personal tragedy. Mothers lost sons. Fathers lost daughters. Brothers lost sisters. Grandmothers lost grandchildren. The pain, suffering and grieving has just begun for thousands of relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Consider the loss of these lives as you would the loss of your own closest relatives and friends and pray for the comfort of those who are living through this nightmare.
The value of human life
At the core of good Judeo-Christian theology is the understanding that all human life is sacred. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) We are living in a day in which our entire country and world is polarized by political, social, racial, religious and sexual differences. We label each other by titles such as “liberals”, “conservatives”, “gay”, “straight”, “black”, “white”, “latino”, and any other designation we can find. These labels are the source of great division, yet they are not as strong as the one common thread we have as humans – we were created in the image of God. It is the very imprint of God’s image upon our lives that unities us despite our differences. So while my political, religious and sexual orientation may be different from another person, I am called to honor and respect every human being regardless of how their belief, lifestyle, worldview, values or choices differ from my own. It gives Father great pleasure to see humans treat one another with honor because he values his image within us all.
The words of Jesus
Our differences will never go away, but how we treat others who are different than us can change. Mateen chose to kill those who did not ascribe to his belief system. Hatred towards those who are of a different viewpoint or lifestyle than our own is always a choice. Hatred comes in many forms other than murder – like slander, bigotry, cruelty, gossip, judgment and prejudice. The form and degree of hatred may vary, but at the root of all hatred whether petty or grand is sin. (Matthew 5:21-22)
As a followers of Christ, the precedent for how we treat people different than ourselves is in great contrast to our natural responses. Jesus said,
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Matthew 6:32-36)
The mark of a true Christ follower is not in how we treat those who are like us, but how we treat those who are different than us. If we only love our brothers and sisters, we do nothing more than the worst of sinners. It is the unconditional and gracious love of our Father that drew us to repentance and faith in Jesus. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) We will be the greatest example of the Father’s nature to this world when we learn how to love people who are completely different than us regardless of whether they ever choose to adhere to our beliefs. (Luke 23:34)
How would this world change, if Christians became an unwavering example of the unconditional love of our Father?