We have all heard about it: the tragedy that happened in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015. A young man, only 21 years old, shot and killed 9 people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with racially-charged, malicious intent. Charleston is such a beautiful city – I spent some time there at the beginning of the summer and during February of this year when the picture above was taken. I can imagine that during the tragedy on the night of June 17, the city did not feel the weight of its own beauty, but instead the weight of lives lost. There are no words that can describe how tragic this situation is. I cannot begin to imagine the hurt that the families of the victims are going through right now. In the days immediately following the shooting, I was blown away with how quickly some of the family members of the victims were able to say to the shooter, Dylann Roof, “I forgive you.” I admire their faith immensely, and am so glad that as believers they have God to lean on through this process and time of grief and healing.
My heart also breaks for the shooter, Dylann Roof. I was shocked to learn that we were the same age. Obviously your average human does not commit awful crimes like he did, so something must have been different within him. I cannot help but wonder what his life was like growing up. Did he have close friends? Did he feel accepted? Was he bullied? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I cannot help but think that people do horrific things like this because they were deeply hurt somewhere along the line. I wonder if things would have been different if the Christians that Dylann went to school with had reached out to him, befriended him, and had conversations with him. According to International Business Times, Dylann switched schools many times beginning as young as 5th grade, ultimately dropping out of school altogether in 9th grade. As an elementary school teacher, I have worked with a lot of kids, and children do not drop out of school when they have a ton of friends and people that love and care about them. Kids drop out when they feel like they don’t belong, when they feel that they have no reason to stay. They lash out like Dylann did as a cry for someone, anyone, to notice and remember them.
Maybe Dylann’s classmates tried to be his friend. Maybe they invited him to spend the night on the weekends or go to the pool and maybe he said no. Maybe Dylann just did not have a heart to receive friendship and isolated himself. Perhaps there were faithful followers of Christ investing in his life and spending time with Him and sharing God’s love with Him. But perhaps not. I know it is not that simple to say he committed a vicious crime because he had trouble making friends. There is obviously a lot going on here, more than we will ever fully know.
One thing I do know to be true, however, is the sheer power of the love of God. God extends His love to each and every person, murderer or not. As believers, we have chosen and committed to taking that love and spreading it wherever we go, and we absolutely have to do that. The light, love, and hope that are found in Jesus are the only things that this country and this world need right now, much to the disbelief of the politicians and lawmakers who do not believe in Christ. I just wonder if things would have been different if one of Dylann’s Christian classmates had been unafraid to tell the story of what God had done in his or her life, if they had reached out to someone who wasn’t easy to love. No one else can be held responsible for Dylann’s actions besides himself, but I still wonder if it could have made a difference.
If ever there was a time to rise up to your calling as a God-fearing, Gospel-believing Christian, it is now. As Christians, we are here for such a time as this: to bring the one and only Truth to a world that thinks it needs everything but Jesus. Often times, those people around us who need to be shown God the most are not the easiest to love, but as Christians we are called to do exactly that:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them…But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6).
We must follow the example and the exhortation of the God of the Universe that we claim to love and serve. If we are without love, all of our words and actions are worthless:
"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love" (1 Corinthians 13: 1-7 MSG).
As we move forward in light of what happened in Charleston, look intentionally for people around you who need Christ. Look for those who might be hard to love and ask God’s love to win out in your heart so that His name might be proclaimed. Pray for believers all across the nation, that we would walk boldly in our calling and honor the name of Christ with our lives. Pray for nonbelievers, that the Lord would open eyes and ears and hearts that are shut off to the Gospel, that they might turn to Him and be saved. God is the only hope, the only genuine love that can be offered in such a time as Charleston. Let’s go and share what we know to be true.
- Mary Margaret // @margegunn