This is not an easy topic. I’ve been thinking a lot; reading and praying since the latest wave of shooting terrors began. News cycles move on. People can’t. Especially those in Southhaven, El Paso, Dayton and now Midland-Odessa.
My first two thoughts were, I can’t believe it happened again … but then again I can.
Were those yours too? Collective shock, bewilderment and fear … all those emotions are personal because we too shop at Walmart, all our grownup-kids go out at night with friends and everyone must fill their car with gas.
In such everyday places even young children become targets.
John Stonestreet wrote on Tuesday after the El Paso shooting, “that there are evil people out there is the one thing, maybe the only thing, everyone still agrees on.” (http://www.breakpoint.org/2019/08/breakpoint-el-paso-dayton-and-gilroy/ ) Though we may agree on this one thing, there is no united belief for how to identify evil in someone before they act. Murderous hearts seeking revenge are as old as Cain who out of jealousy killed his brother.
Three of my conclusions are these:
Ultimately evil took root in the hearts of these young killers because they welcomed it. Like Cain who ignored God’s warning; “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7), too few young men are taught to master, or control passion. Too few are living lives of resistance, young or old.
There is an enemy who lures. Few parental or personal restraints and easy access to evil ideals, ideas and images lit the kindling of hurt hidden within these vulnerable males. Cain had no internet and an intact family, but still he murdered. Why? He carried the invisible disease of a selfish rebellious heart.
And we do too. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Our every decision hovers on “the brink of both.”1
Secondly, are we teaching this fundamental truth to our children? Yes, parents want to grow a positive self-image in their children, but that good quality begins with a healthy fear or respect of God. Otherwise, healthy self-confidence becomes self-importance or pride.
Do your children know this is truth about their hearts, too? It’s not just those who do bad things and kill people, but this disease is in all of us. Do you teach your children about sin, our individual need for repentance, forgiveness and restoration? Do they see you, the most important adult in their lives, living dependent on and restored in Jesus? Do they know how to go to Jesus for help?
You may believe your children aren’t thinking about these killings anymore, but memories linger. Invade their space. Ask them what they think and feel. Ask what kids are saying at school. Tell them what you feel, fear and pray. Inviting these conversations speaks love.
And third, these recent shootings and the many others that don’t make national news are a steady drumbeat reminding us the family is the birthplace of belonging, virtue, character, identity, self-control and faith. It is also the birthplace of abandonment, rebellion, isolation, lack of worth and disillusionment.
The drumbeat is getting louder and louder.
As disturbing as these acts of violence are, they present wise parents the opportunity to instruct children in the truth about God and to make corrections if needed. Too often it is said in the aftermath by the shooters’ parents, we thought he was just a normal teenager, “no more aimless than many others.” (Wall Street Journal, August 6)
Are you intruding and involved in your middle and high schoolers lives? With love of course, but it is your responsibility to interfere. God said of Eli the priest, you “honor your sons above Me.” Do we fear offending our children more than offending God? Go into their rooms, check all screens, ruthlessly be involved in their lives. Know their friends; guide their relationships. Assuming your kids are okay is a grave risk in today’s world.
Don’t let your children’s cries of “it’s not fair, I can’t believe you don’t trust me,” keep you from engaging them. Be in their business. Children living at home need a healthy fear/respect of their parents.
Witnessing evil at work reminds me of Martin Luther’s words, “though this world with devils filled,” from A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. We live on a beautiful planet that is not yet God’s kingdom. Our common prosperity is literally killing us and smothering our faith. Being accustomed to ease and comfort lulls us into feeling too at home on earth, our souls too rooted in this temporary soil.
News coverage looks for those to blame, laws to fix, and bemoans the lack of protections. More laws will never address the issues of the heart.
So what should parents do both now and next time?
Gather your children. Talk, answer questions and pray as never before, both for wisdom to guide your little ones and for God’s work in our land. It is His indescribable grace that has brought salvation and our present safety.
Second, take a fearless inventory of your family. “None is righteous, no one understands; no one seeks for God,” (Romans 3:11,12). This is the truth we’d rather pretend is over-exaggerated. This is one of the verses we don’t like to read. But we must teach this truth to our children for “the destiny of the universe is found in the destiny of families.”2
There is no mistaking God’s priority for the family because He begins the bible with a marriage and family and ends it the same way.
In fact, God ends the Old Testament, after endless stories of dysfunctional tragic families with this promise: “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, lest I come and strike the land with a curse,” (Malachi 4:5, 6).
And with that warning the Old Testament closes. God is silent for 400 years.
And when He speaks again the words are of a genealogy, a family tree, announcing the birth of a Baby, the formation of a new family, to which all who come are grafted in by adoption.
Last, gather your family regularly. Invest heavily in those relationships. And pray daily with and for your children. We need revival individually and collectively. Families turning without reservation to God is the only way of hope for our land.
I hope you will join me in praying for revival as Malachi foretells.
- Advent, by Fleming Rutledge, Eerdman 2018, page 126.
- Ditto, page 85.