|You Can Stop the Killing
Reflections on the Virginia Tech Tragedyby Ken Sande, Founder of Peacemaker Ministries
The dreadful massacre at Virginia Tech leaves every one of us feeling stunned, confused, and grieving. But you don’t have to sit there feeling helpless; there are things you can do to stop the killing.
Even as we join in the outpouring of tears, mourning, and prayers for those who have suffered so terribly, we can find incredibly relevant guidance as we listen to the words of Jesus, who spoke about a similar tragedy 2000 years ago. Luke 13:1-5 says:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Note that Jesus refuses to attribute suffering directly to a person’s sinfulness, as some people are inclined to do (see John 9:1-3). He also declines to explain why God allows such tragedies to occur. His holy Word had already declared, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut. 29:29). As the one who would one day suffer the greatest pain and injustice the world could ever know, Jesus modeled a complete trust that our heavenly Father is watching over us and will eventually secure perfect justice for all who look to him (see 1 Pet. 2:21-23).
Most surprisingly, however, Jesus explicitly shifts our focus away from questioning why some people sin and others suffer, and calls us instead to focus on the sin in our own lives. “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” The repentance he is referring to in this discourse is a fundamental repentance for sin, a realization that we fall short of the glory of God across the board, and an admission of our need for a Savior who will graciously deliver us from all our sins.
But genuine repentance is not completed with trusting in Jesus as our Savior. Instead, it goes on and on, searching every room and closet of our souls, taking hold of specific sins, and, by God’s grace, throwing them out the door so they rule and pollute us no more.
There is one act of repentance that is especially appropriate for each of us to pursue in the light of the killings at Virginia Tech. Jesus describes it with disquieting words in Matthew 5:21-23:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Jesus knows how easy it is for us to see others’ sins, and how hard it is for us to see and repent of our own. So he grabs us with his words and shakes us up with a startling statement: If we harbor sinful anger in our hearts, we are just as guilty before God as the man who actually murders another person.
Although physical murder is appropriately punished by more severe consequences in this world, our holy Father is as deeply offended by the heart sins of anger and hatred as he is by the pulling of a trigger (James 2:10-11). As 1 John 3:15 warns, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”
So how does Jesus want you to respond to the Virginia Tech massacre? Certainly he wants you to pray for and mourn with those who have lost loved ones (Rom. 12:15). But he calls you to go beyond mourning–and stop the killing in your own heart. If you have been harboring anger, bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness toward another person, Jesus is calling you to repent of these sins by forgiving and being reconciled to those people, just as your heavenly Father has forgiven you and reconciled you to himself through Christ (see Col. 1:21, 3:12-14).
If you read Matthew 5:23-24 again, you will see that being reconciled with others is so important to our Lord that he commands us to make human reconciliation an even higher priority than worshiping God. The reason for this surprising reorganization of our priorities is explained in 1 John 4:19-21:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
In simple terms, God is telling us that we cannot worship him in an acceptable manner if we are not first loving, forgiving, and reconciling with the people around us, even those who have done us great and repeated wrong (see Luke 6:27-36; Rom. 12:19-21).
Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:27-36 seems noble in theory, but unworkable in practice. Love my enemies? Do good to those who hate me? Bless those who curse me? Pray for those who mistreat me? Impossible!
Yes, it is. Completely, utterly impossible … unless you are totally captivated and enthralled and filled by the One who loved you so much that he gave his life for you while you were still his enemy (Rom. 5:8).
The more deeply you understand and delight in the gospel of Christ–that Jesus died and was resurrected to pay for your sins and reconcile you to God, the more you will want to imitate his incredible love and forgiveness by passing it on as an undeserved gift to those around you. As 1 John 4:12 promises, “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
What if you are experiencing one of those wonderful periods of life when you can honestly say that you know of no estrangement from any other person? Thank God for this season of peace! But then look around for those who are struggling with conflict and broken relationships, pray for them, and ask God to use you to help just one of those people learn how to pursue reconciliation with others, and better yet, with God.
It can be as simple as downloading a few pages of practical peacemaking guidelines from our web site, and then inviting a friend to join you for a cup of coffee, where you can hear his or her story and lay out a simple plan for reconciling with a brother or sister, father or mother, friend or coworker.
The Virginia Tech massacre has created a window of opportunity to stop the killing that goes on in human hearts every day, and sometimes spills over into actual bloodshed. Don’t let this opportunity slip away. If you wait, the person you are estranged from could die tomorrow without hearing your words of confession or forgiveness. A friend who might be teachable today may reject your advice tomorrow.
Don’t wait. Stop the killing in your heart and in the hearts of those whom God can touch through you. Go and be reconciled. Then come and offer your gift of praise to God, who has given you the gift of peace and forgiveness.
Ken Sande is the founder of Peacemaker Ministries (http://peacemaker.net) and the author of numerous resources on biblical conflict resolution, including The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Baker Books, 3rd ed. 2004).
Ken delivered an extended version of this message to the student body of The Master’s College two days after the Virginia Tech killings. To download a free audio file of that message and of a companion chapel message on “Getting to the Heart of Conflict,” please visit www.peacemaker.net/audio.