Hope in the face of Evil
Rev. Sandy Johnson
October 8, 2017
This week the unthinkable happened. Tragedy struck in Las Vegas and lives were forever changed, taken in the flash of a second in the nation’s worst shooting in modern times. I suspect many of you are still feeling numb, shocked that this could happen, yet again, and this time, so close to home. Nearly everyone I spoke to this week had a connection of some kind. Friends, family, or friends of friends were attending the concert or working at the venue.
Barbara Link’s grandson, J.C. was working, Connie Mancillas’ daughter was a first responder with Las Vegas Metro and spent the night interviewing victims at the local hospital. Cameron’s friend Ben’s sister was attending the concert. My dear friend Glen Simpson was the medic in charge of the ambulances at the concert and was thrust into the role of managing the scene as hundreds were injured and needed transportation to the hospital. Glen has been a guest at our church in the past.
I think the worst part is that there aren’t any answer as to why, although frankly nothing could make sense of 58 people being gunned down. But we want answers, don’t we? We want to know what would cause a 64-yr. old man to turn to such violence. Was he mentally ill? Having a major breakdown? Had he been influenced by something or someone? Perhaps he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol? As the police seek answers, we must seek our own answers, our own response to this horrific violence, through the lens of our Christian faith.
We use the word evil when we describe events like what took place just a week ago. It looks like pure evil, a complete lack of regard for others. Evil can be described as something “morally wrong, wicked, harmful, injurious, or due to an actual or imputed bad conduct or character.” When people of faith face evil, our responses may vary from projecting blame for the evil, to denying it altogether, or perhaps the response is utter hopelessness.
A popular televangelist this week said that the shooting was the result of “disrespect for authority, disrespect for our president, the national anthem, for veterans and the institutions of government.” Somehow, he believed that God was punishing us for our sins. If we accept this notion, we are saying that God doesn’t offer grace. This would suggest that since we are sinners, all of us deserve to be shot down like our sisters and brothers on Sunday night. I don’t accept this theory of why evil happens. God doesn’t work this way. In the Old Testament we see examples of this, but we are Jesus people. Jesus Christ changed how God engages with us when he lived, died and was resurrected, all for us.
Some might just ignore the situation and prefer to go back to their lives, pretending that nothing happened. It’s too overwhelming to face it. I know that many are feeling hopeless and don’t know what to do. I can’t blame them.
We might look at the shooting and think, well, God gives us freewill and this is freewill run amok. Can we actually say that “evil and suffering are the price we pay for freedom or they are punishment for our misdeeds?”
If our model is Christ, and it is, then we must have a more hopeful response. Jesus teaches us to love and to show compassion. We may never be able to understand why evil exists. I mean, if God is all-powerful, why he doesn’t stop evil and protect us from harm. I wish I had answers for you, but I find I have only more questions. So, I chance my focus from “why” to “what now.” Where can we find hope in the midst of this evil? Where do we see God at work?
Scripture has so much rich and relevant guidance for us. Psalm 92 that we read, says that we are “to give thanks to the Lord, sing praises to His name; declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…. our enemies shall perish, all evildoers shall be scattered.” God knows that evil is in the world and he promises that our enemies shall perish, that evildoers will be scattered. He doesn’t promise us that evil won’t have its day. God promises to be there in the messy, painful, horrific aftermath.
According to Ephesians 6, we are to put on the armor of God. We must be strong in the Lord and receive his strength, the strength of his power. We must arm ourselves with conviction, truth, and righteousness. We must proclaim the gospel of peace, faith, and salvation. Then we must use the word of God to guide us, praying in the Spirit and God will give us perseverance and will empower us to withstand the wicked powers of evil.
You see, evil can’t survive where there is love and hope, where Christ is among us. It’s impossible. And as much as God doesn’t intervene to stop violence, he was ever-present in so many people who stepped up to help, to be the hands and feet of Christ in an awful situation.
Our faith in Jesus Christ alleviates suffering, and offers hope. This week I saw hope in so many places. I saw hope in the first responders who ran toward the bullets and sacrificed their safety to help others. I witnessed hope as our local blood banks were overflowing with people there to donate blood. When people like Keith Goudy went to help and stayed three days to help create order out of chaos.
I saw hope when Steve Sisolak, one of our Clark County Commissioners, started a GoFundMe account, hoping to raise just $100,000.00. He opened the account with his own donation of $10,000. That account today has grown to over 10 million.
Hope was felt when one of our own Boulder City Police Explorers, Bailey Thompson, just 17 used his training to help victims in whatever way he could. The local paper reported he used belts, shoelaces and watch bands to stop bleeding and then helped load victims into the back of his truck and took 13 victims to Spring Valley Hospital. After his second trip to the hospital, he stayed to help with security as the hospital had been absolutely overrun with hundreds of injured people.
Monday our church offered hope when we opened our doors for prayer and reflection. Churches all over the valley did the same, offering a safe place to grieve, to pause and to reflect on what had happened. Prayer vigils, candle light vigils, services to honor those whose lives were cut short and those who responded so sacrificially.
Wednesday night I was privileged to offer the opening prayer at a local country and western club called, Stoney’s Rockin’ Country. They held a fundraising concert and raised over $30,000 for the victims’ fund. We honored those who had been at the concert, more than forty and a dozen or so first responders. Many in attendance had lost friends or were themselves injured.
Friday night a healing garden was opened for the first time. In just five days a vacant lot in downtown Las Vegas was transformed into the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden. Local nurseries donated 59 trees, dozens of volunteers helped to build this garden, a source of life. Out of the destruction, they created something that will bring joy, something beautiful.
The death and destruction isn’t the last word. We are a people of hope, we are Christ’s people and we are called to bring beauty out of the horror. We discover hope in the knowledge that God was ever-present on Sunday night and here with us today. Offering comfort and healing for our grief.
In the weeks and months to come we will be called upon to formulate a response. To take a hard look at our gun laws and have some difficult discussions about how we can honor all of our citizens’ rights and also keep our citizens safe. I won’t go there now, but the discussion will come, and I will invite you all to join me.
I’d like to close with a quote from Henri Nouwen, from his book, “Can You Drink The Cup?” “When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become. The sorrow overwhelms us, makes us throw ourselves on the ground, face down, and sweat drops of blood. Then we need to be reminded that our cup of sorrow is also our cup of joy and that one day we will be able to taste the joy as fully as we now taste the sorrow.”
I’d like to invite Connie, Susan, and Fred to come up. We will honor our sisters and brothers who died in the attack on Sunday night.
Please pray for the families of each victim as their name is read.
 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2017/10/02/pat-robertson-blames-vegas-shooting-on-lack-of-respect-for-donald-trump-and-god/ Accessed 10.7.17
 http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/3084/answering-tough-questions-tragedy-and-the-justice-of-god Accessed 10.6.17
 Psalm 92:1-2, 9