“A gunman has gone on a killing spree, and the number of deaths is mounting.” Similar statements as this hit the World Wide Web and the airways revealing what all of us now know. On April 17, a South Korean student at Virginia Tech killed 32 students in the worst massacre on a college campus in the history of the United States.
In a world of continuous ,news we have become accustomed to the term “breaking news.” It is a way to call attention to the latest newsworthy story in an almost instantaneous way. Long before the term breaking news was commonplace, generations before us they heard the news in their own way as rapidly as possible.
December 7, 1941, was “a day of infamy” as famously declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This pronouncement came following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, Guam and the Philippines.
November 22, 1963, was another breaking news day in American history. This was perhaps the most news covered day in the world until the 9/11 event. This was the day a youthful president named John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, Texas, during a visit to that southern city. To this day, conspiracy theories abound concerning the possibility of more than one shooter. Most likely this subject will not die any time soon because there are still conspiracy buffs questioning the circumstances of the death of Abraham Lincoln.
9/11 is less than six years in our past, and we are still dealing with scars and pain of that infamous Tuesday in September 2001. When the breaking news came to us, we felt a sense of brokenness.
This past week has been a long one, indeed. We have seen vivid and disturbing images of a 23-year-old man filled with anger and evil pointing his weapons at the camera, spewing venom and vitriol to the audience who would later learn what he has done. We have observed the response of the police as well as the students. Several heroes have been revealed in the wake of this horrific event. Professor Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, helped students find safety as he locked doors and stood in the path of the angry killer.
The Psalms have been my biblical reading passion this year. I am learning to pray the Psalms as well as to study them and speak from them. The unvarnished candor and unapologetic faith of the Psalms have drawn me to them like a magnet.
Psalm 27 has provided me comfort and consolation this week as I, along with you, viewed the meaningless massacre. I would like to reference this psalm as we experience the brokenness of breaking news. There are several reminders in Psalm 27 that we need to hear. Verse one summarizes these affirmations. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?”.
This most recent horrific breaking news episode offers us an opportunity to consider some reflective reminders which come to us in biblical revelation as well as the experiences of life. What are these reminders?
I. This horrible episode reminds us that we are fickle people. I do not want to be unkind, but I think when something like this experience happens, we are jolted into the reality of rethinking what is important in life. Are we obsessed with matters which have little lasting significance? Is American Idol really that important to us? Are our priorities in life really a reflection of a mature perspective? Are we living with an eye toward eternity or on earth? Like Hurricane Katrina, this terrible event shocks us into this kind of self-examination.
II. As we experience this terrible ordeal it reminds us that we are fragile people. “Life is fragile: Handle with care” would be a good way to state the situation. There is a fragile line between life and death. We can easily cross that line in a brief moment which moves us from life to death.
Last week I led in the memorial service for a lady killed by a drunken driver as she and her husband and daughter were traveling from their home in Cullman to Birmingham. Her husband and young daughter were severely injured. One minute she is talking to her husband who was driving, and the next second she is gone. This experience coupled with the episode this week reminded me of how fragile life is for us. One second we are here, and the next second we can be gone.
III. We are also reminded that we are fearful people. Fear is a common part of life. It is a subject of the Psalms, especially the 27th one. The Psalmist declared “Whom shall we fear?”.
I remember hearing on a couple of occasions Chuck Kelly saying, “We are never safe, but we are always secure.” This was learned afresh through the experience of Hurricane Katrina. Chuck Kelly has reminded us that in life we are really never safe. God does not promise that at all. However, we are promised security in our relationship with Christ.
A columnist featured in the Montgomery Advertiser this week asked the question, “Is there no place we’re safe?” His column discussed the places where people have been killed in the past year. Are we safe at church? No, a church in Milwaukee is the place where a killer burst into the worship service and killed seven people. Are we safe at a birthday party for a child? A 10-year-old girl was killed at her cousin’s birthday party in Chicago. Are we safe at a graduation party? The answer again is no. Last year in Moreno Valley California a 15-year-old girl was killed at a friend’s graduation celebration.
We were reminded this past week that the calm and peaceful atmosphere of a major university can be a far cry from what President Bush called “a sanctuary of safety” as well as learning. Our innocence has again been attacked, and a sense of safety has again been challenged.
IV. This experience certainly reminds us that, as Christians, we are to be faithful people. As believers we can declare with confidence that “the Lord is my light and my salvation … the Lord is the strength of my life.”
The psalmist affirms his desire to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” That is an affirmation of faith which helps us address our fickle, fragile, fearful nature. We can be faithful to the Lord even in the midst of breaking news.
Thursday night David McCain, father of Lauren who was killed at Virginia Tech this past week, spoke like a faithful and courageous Christian when he described his daughter as a beautiful believer. He said “I forgive the young man, and I am praying for his family as they endure this crisis.” He indicated that his daughter would have wanted him to be forgiving.
A grad student active in Baptist Campus Ministry loved one of the statements of Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, who said, “God who foresaw your tribulation, will see you through it, not without pain, but without stain.” That is an illustration of faithfulness.
The psalmist said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”.