This isn’t going to be easy. It may even tread a few paces into the domain of the pastor’s column. I, like many, was shocked by the news of a lone gunman opening fire on the Republican baseball team this week. Let me be clear. This was a horrible thing for that man to do. You don’t just go around shooting people because you don’t like their political priorities. It was an ill-founded, ill-conceived and ill-fated attempt to resolve misplaced anger. Plain and simple.
What I’m struggling with is the response to it. Not only the national response, or the comments made by members of Congress, but my own. I don’t feel saddened by the shooter’s death. You may say that’s the natural and correct response — and you wouldn’t be alone. Rep. Steve King posted a Washington Post article on his Twitter page in which he was asked about his feelings regarding the gunman’s possible motives.
“I’m really not that interested to tell you the truth,” King responded. “If he were on his way to the morgue, it wouldn’t make me sorry at all.”
I can’t say I felt any differently. In fact, I’m not sure I felt any differently after any of the other shootings in our country’s history, which have been far too many. However, I have felt the same mumble of a question shaking somewhere just above my stomach. It’s a murmur, an unarticulated loose end, that my mind fleetingly grasps at in the dark. It was something I couldn’t resolve until I had a firm grasp on it, like a stray hair tickling your nose.
Having mulled it over for the past several days, I finally got a tentative grasp on what I was asking myself. It began to come to me after I replayed the comments made by Representative Rodney Davis, of Illinois, in my head. Davis was on the baseball field at the time of the attack. In an interview with an ABC correspondent, Davis personally addressed the shooter, who’s condition at the time was unconfirmed. He said the United States was the greatest country in history, that the country has many freedoms and that the gunman tried to use those freedoms to kill but failed.
No problems there.
The next phrase is what caused me to arch my eyebrow at the television screen.
“…and there’s a warm place in hell for you too,” Davis concluded.
I understand he’s angry and most likely in shock to some degree. But something about the casual nature of that comment didn’t sit right with me. I finally put words to that question that had been forming in my stomach: “Should I be enthused by the idea of a man in hell?”
I decided, as a Christian, I should not be. That’s the antithesis of Christ’s words. I will reiterate my first point. This man did an awful thing. While I’m writing this, Rep. Scalise is still in critical condition, so while the attacker may not have met the legal definition of murder, he did meet the biblical one. If we examine Christ’s model, the hate he presumably felt toward members of the Republican Party was equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:22). In full disclosure, I realize the verse ends with “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell,” but it doesn’t say we should be happy when they burn.
Once I arrived at that point, I went a bit farther into Matthew 5, which is the sermon on the mount. About 10 versus down the road, we arrive at another of the most quoted portions of the chapter: “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
That places us in a difficult position. It’s dangerous when you know what the right answer is. Many of us know we are supposed to love our enemies, but we make excuses for why we don’t. We say what they did was unforgivable. We say they gave up their right to be loved by their actions. We say they got what was coming to them. We apply filters to the situation that Christ never did. It’s a difficult proposition love an enemy. It’s unnatural. It takes effort. But it’s what we were told to do.
So, continue to say what happened was wrong. It’s true. Shout it from the rooftops. But don’t rejoice in death and hell.