As most of you know, tragedy unfolded at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, TN last Sunday when a twenty-five year old man named Emanuel Samson arrived at the church building as worship service came to a close and began shooting at churchgoers, both inside and outside the building, killing one and injuring 7 others. In the wake of this event I have been reminded of some biblical truths.
First, the Burnette Chapel shooting reminded me that we live in a fallen world. The existence of evil and suffering in this world is directly related to the presence of sin in this world. Such is the case because the existence of evil is directly related to the existence of free will. Free will refers to our freedom to make choices for good or for bad. God created humans with that freedom, but the existence of free will produced an unavoidable byproduct…the potential for choosing evil. So, go back to the Garden of Eden and notice the impact that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil had on mankind. Mankind was unfamiliar with evil until Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the fruit of this tree that God instructed them not to eat (Genesis 2:16-17). It was the fruit of this tree that the serpent said would open their eyes so that they would know good and evil (Genesis 3:5). It was the fruit of this tree that once eaten did, in fact, open the eyes of Adam and Eve so that they knew they were naked (Genesis 3:7). It was the fruit of this tree that once eaten caused mankind to become like God in their knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Thus, it was the evil (i.e. disobedient) choice of humans to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that brought about the awareness and existence of evil in this world. Ever since that moment we have lived in a fallen world that is awaiting God’s inevitable intervention. Tragedy such as what we experienced last Sunday reminds me that this world is fallen because mankind has repeatedly chosen sin, and the world will continue in this state until Christ returns.
Second, the Burnette Chapel shooting reminded me that persecution is inevitable. No motives have been identified to as the cause for this shooting. So, whether this attack is the result of personal, social, or religious issues has yet to be determined. However, it was an attack that specifically targeted Christians, and, as such, serves as a reminder of the persecution that Christians in the first century endured on a frequent basis. The apostles were arrested and beaten by the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:40). Stephen was stoned to death by a Jewish mob (Acts 7:58-60). James was executed by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-2). Paul survived being stoned by Jews in Lystra (Acts 14:19) and beaten with rods in Philippi (Acts 16:22-23). Additionally, Antipas, a Christian in Pergamum, was killed (Revelation 2:13). Thus, the first generation of Christians were no strangers to physical and fatal persecution. In our country, where the exercise of religion is constitutionally protected, Christians have rarely faced the threat of violence for their religious beliefs and/or practices. The persecution most often faced by Christians in our country is that of criticism for being “narrow-minded” about truth, “intolerant” of different belief systems, or “judgmental” toward those who are different from them. Unfortunately, we should not be surprised when persecution occurs, regardless of which form it takes, because Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” In other words, Paul presented persecution as something to be expected if you choose to follow Christ. Tragedy such as what we experienced last Sunday reminds me that Christians are not promised a peaceful existence, and that persecution in its various forms across different times and cultures will always be a constant for the church.
Third, the Burnette Chapel shooting reminded me that I cannot wait for Jesus’ return. Violence, divisiveness, hatred, evil, suffering, death, and tragedy have become all too common in this world, and they will continue to infect this world until this world is dissolved. The Bible indicates that “the day of the Lord” is coming, and on this day the heavens and earth will be destroyed and the saved will be escorted to “a new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:10-13). And here’s the thing about the new heavens and new earth: 1) It will be a place where there is no more evil. John described heaven as a place where “there [will be] no more sea” (Revelation 21:1). The sea was associated with chaos, evil and darkness in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:12; Psalm 65:6-7; 74:12-14; 89:9-10), so its absence in heaven equates to the absence of evil in heaven. 2) It will be a place where there is no more death. John described heaven as a place where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Revelation 21:4). In fact, John indicates that “the tree of life,” which is for “the healing of nations” will be present in heaven (Revelation 22:2), indicating that heaven is a place where life is sustained forever. 3) It will be a place where there is no more pain. John described heaven as a place where “there shall be no more pain” (Revelation 21:4). One of the consequences of sin was pain (Genesis 3:16-19), and its absence from heaven is an indication that heaven is a place where fallenness is obsolete. 4) It will be a place where there is no more sin. John described heaven as a place of perfection (Revelation 21:16), a place absent impurity (Revelation 21:27), and a place where I will serve God the way that He deserves (Revelation 22:3). And tragedy such as what we experienced last Sunday accelerates my eagerness for that day when we finally get to go to a better home.
Finally, the Burnette Chapel shooting reminded me that preparation is essential. Returning to 2 Peter 3, Peter asked a rhetorical question in verse eleven. He asked, “Since all these things [i.e. creation] are…to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be.” And he answered his own question in verse 14 saying, “since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” In other words, Peter indicates that since we are waiting for “the day of the Lord,” when Christ returns and this world passes away, we should prepare ourselves to be found purified and reconciled before the Lord. Jesus died to make those conditions possible (Romans 3:24-25; 5:10), and Scripture indicates that there’s only one way to be found in such a state, by being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). So, the ultimate question for you and for me is, “Am I ready?”