Hearing about the disgusting and outrageous tragedy this morning at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, my heart sank, and I began to weep – 50 dead and 53 injured. This mass shooting is the deadliest in United States history. The shooter has been identified as Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, and officials have identified it as a terrorist attack. Sitting here with my family, listening and watching the reports, I ask: How should Christians respond to this tragedy?
Whereas the Pulse is one of the best-known and more popular gay bars in Orlando, I can’t help but believe the heart of God is hemorrhaging today. I believe He is experiencing visceral pain and a deep aching over the loss of lives in Orlando. The victims were image-bearers, and I am saddened. This shooting is an unspeakable and horrible tragedy that was carried out by a man with a desperately wicked heart. As followers of Jesus, how should we respond?
First, we should acknowledge our hurt, perplexity, and confusion to God. I wish I better understood why a good and all-powerful God allows things like this to happen. I am troubled and cannot find words to describe my heartache. Like David, in Psalm 77:7-9, we can ask character questions of God:
Has the Lord rejected us forever?
Will he never again be kind to us?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten how to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion? Psalm 77:7-9
These questions are not questions of unbelief but a desire for explanation in the midst of perplexity. God will not get angry with us or spurn us for asking questions. His shoulders are broad, and he invites us to lament and bring our doubts and confusion to him. He knows this tragedy crushes our hope and leaves our faith staggering like a boxer pummeled by his opponent. So, we might as well cry out to him and tell him about our pain and perplexity. It’s a cathartic and healthy process.
Second, we should grieve, mourn and lament with families who have lost sons and daughters. Just as the Father is grieving and mourning this loss, we should cry over this tragedy. If our hearts are hardened, we should ask the Father to break them and fill them with grace and compassion. If we have a gay family member, neighbor, or co-worker, we need to sit with them, grieve with them, weep with them, and pray with them. They are hurting and probably fearful, but they are our neighbors, and Jesus has called us to love all our neighbors (Mark 12:31).
Third, we should pray for our Father to sustain the victims’ families, the LGBT community, and the entire city of Orlando (Psalm 55:22). They are brokenhearted. We have an opportunity and responsibility to pray, asking our Father to come near. As we pray, we can be an answer to our prayers by coming near to the gay community. Also, let’s pray for people to respond to the gospel’s good news. These kinds of incidents should move us to ask eternal questions. Let’s pray that people’s hearts will be turned to a loving Father who sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to bring redemption.
Fourth, we should believe that our Father can get the glory and bring good out of this tragic experience. If he can take the ugliness of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross and bring glory to himself and salvation for humanity, then he can take the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and bring about redemption. I don’t know how and when, but I have decided to fill the gap – between tragedy and redemption – with trust.
Fifth, we should not judge all Muslims by the act of one radical and deranged man. As I have listened and watched the news reports pour in, every genuine Muslim has denounced the actions and any associations with Omar Mir Seddique Mateen. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and decry violence. We may not believe the same thing, but we can and should interact with our Muslim neighbors with grace and honor. Not only should we not prejudge Muslims, we should stand against all prejudices – ethnic hatred, racism, terrorism, and extremism of any kind (James 2:1-12).
Sixth, we should check our hearts for anger, pride, self-righteousness and judgmentalism. The heart is evil and desperately wicked. No one can fully know it. Sometimes, I forget how evil sin is – in our world and my life (Mark 7:21-22). Our response to the Holy Spirit revealing evil and sin to us is to repent and submit our lives afresh to the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus.
Seventh, we should reject fear and walk in faith. Though Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS, there is no evidence to tie him to the radical group. If this is the case, then we have a “lone wolf,” and I believe this is what frightens us most. When fear comes, let’s continue to rehearse these words:
God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Psalm 46:1-3