I woke up just before 5 AM to an ominous notification from my Jerusalem Post app. Downstairs, turning on the news, the horrific truth was confirmed. The worst mass shooting in modern American history. Not long after, I was in my gym locker room. A gym buddy, Mike, a self-described C&E (i.e., “Christmas And Easter”) Catholic, greeted me. Usually, I am not tempted to ask this, but I found myself asking him, “How does something like this happen?” His 5-word, profound answer was, “No love, no Jesus, man.”
Some random thoughts occurred to me, in processing the events in Las Vegas late on Sunday night, October 1st.
- Luke 13:1-5. This did not happen because the people in Las Vegas, Nevada, are more wicked and evil than people in other parts of this country or the world. The need among the over 20,000 accountable adults at that country music festival is the same need that all of us have, to be penitent believers in Christ.
- Second Amendment And Gun Control. Investigations are still ongoing, but there is preliminary reason to believe that at least one or some of the guns used by the shooter would have been obtained illegally. Gun control laws would not prevent illegal weapons. At the same time, there were several fire arms on those in attendance. They proved useless against a shooter from 1000 feet away and 32 stories high. Guns are not inherently evil nor the all-encompassing answer.
- Man. Man was both perpetrator and victim. Yet, man is so limited. We are not all-knowing or all-powerful. Highly trained law enforcement officers and first responders, who doubtless saved many lives, did not prevent this. How humbled these events make us!
- Atheism. Nearly every news interview ended with the reporter or anchor with a pledge of prayers or similar reference to God. The president’s brief statement continuously referred to God and even quoted Scripture. Nobody invokes “survival of the fittest,” “big bang,” or “there is no God” to provide help, comfort, or strength to anyone. A Godless worldview is a hopeless one.
Big questions emerge from this fog of suffering. Christians, we not only have the answer, but as God works through us, we are the answer! I read a social media post from Sheila Butt, challenging us to take Christianity off the pew and into our daily lives. The soul we reach and life we help change might change the course of the world for good (or the prevention of evil). Mike nailed it. “No love, no Jesus, man.” Amen!
One of the most recent lottery winners, Jesus Davila, Jr., has an interesting backstory. He once spent 12 years behind bars for the manufacturing and selling of cocaine, a felony. This week, he claimed $127 million after taxes. Sounds like a rags to riches kind of story, doesn’t it? It is interesting, and not a little sad, to read about some past winners of the lottery:
- Ibi Roncaioli was murdered by her husband after giving $2 million of her $5 million dollar prize to a secret child she’d had with another man (businessinsider.com).
- Evelyn Adams won twice, in 1985 and 1986, winning a total of $5.4 million. She gambled it away in Atlantic City and lives in a trailer park today (ibid.).
- Willie Hurt won $3.1 million in 1989, but spent it all on a horrible crack addiction, divorced his wife, lost custody of his children, and was charged with attempted murder (ibid.).
- Victoria Zell won $11 million in 2001, but went to prison convicted of a drug and alcohol-induced car collision that killed one and paralyzed another (theatlantic.com).
- Abraham Shakespeare won $31 million in 2006. He disappeared in 2009, after having spent most of his fortune. He was found under a concrete slab in 2010, a woman accused of fleecing him for nearly $2 million charged with his murder (ibid.).
- Jack Whittaker, already wealthy when he won $314 million in 2002, suffered too many calamities to mention here, but they include the death of his granddaughter and daughter and being sued for writing bounced checks to casinos. He was quoted as saying, “I wish I’d torn that ticket up” (ibid.).
- Bud Post won $16.2 million, but squandered it. His brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to try and kill him. He died of respiratory failure in 2006, living on $450 a month and food stamps. He once said, “I wish it never happened. It was totally a nightmare” (cleveland.com).
- Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in 1996. In 2005, he was kidnapped, robbed and murdered by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend (ibid.).
To say there are mountains of additional, equally pitiful stories is to understate the matter. Certainly, not every one who wins the lottery winds up on skid row or in the morgue because of it. Yet, neither is it the panacea one might believe it to be. How many others, who can ill afford to play, squander money on a regular basis in the hopes of striking it rich? The overwhelming majority will never achieve that, but even many that do wind up worse than before they won.
In the ever-elusive search for happiness and satisfaction, mankind will come up empty when looking to material things for the answer. Jesus taught that it’s a hollow pursuit (Mat. 6:19). Paul says not “to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Jesus warned that your life does not consist of your possessions, even if you have an abundance of them (Lk. 12:15). The good news is that there is a true treasure, one that never disappoints, that never depletes, and will never go away. Peter calls it “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” (1 Pet. 1:4). Strive to “win” that!
In a post-9/11 world, how does a 9-year-old boy slip through TSA, a gate agent, and the flight attendants to board a flight from Minneapolis all the way to Las Vegas before being discovered? That’s what everyone wants to know, but that is what the “street smart” minor did. Only well into the flight did flight attendants have sufficient suspicion to take action, having him delivered into protective custody once in McCarran Airport in Nevada. Back in Minnesota, surveillance video showed the boy talking to a gate agent and when she got busy doing something else, he walked down the jet bridge and boarded the plane (some info via http://www.aviationpros.com). While that might shake our confidence in airport security, we have to be pretty impressed with the savvy and moxie of the little boy to get as far as he did. He outsmarted a pretty sophisticated series of security measures into which the U.S. Government has poured billions of dollars since 2001.
Can you imagine what the reaction was in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago, when Jesus stayed behind instead of returning with His family’s caravan back to Nazareth. It took everyone a full day’s journey before detecting that Jesus was not in the group. After three days they found Him in the temple. Here was Jesus, “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:46b-47). Of course, the sinless Christ had committed no crime or sin. His answer to His questioning parents was both respectful and logical (Luke 2:49). “He continued in subjection to them” (Luke 2:51). How many 12-year-olds would have thought to do what Jesus did, much less in the masterful way in which He did it. Looking back, we know this was but one of an endless list of things Jesus did which points to His Deity. In fact, thanks to it being preserved in Scripture, we still talk about this 2,000 years later.
It is remarkable to see what young people can do. It shows how we can underestimate them and sell them short, though we should not. What the boy on a plane did was incredible, but illegal. What Jesus did in New Testament times was unsurpassed, but not unlawful. May we hold up the latter as a role model to spur our youth on to dream bigger dreams and do greater things to the glory of God, “wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil” (Rom. 16:19; cf. 1 Cor. 14:20).