The past two weeks have reminded us of the uncertainty of life, regardless of who we are or where we might chose to be at any particular moment in our daily activities. On Sunday morning, September 24, a lone gunman confronted members of the Burnett Chapel church of Christ near Nashville, Tennessee, evidently while the brethren were in the process of dismissing services that morning. Before his rampage was stopped by one of the members, he succeeded in killing one person on the church parking lot and inflicted injury on another half dozen inside the church building. One week and 12 hours later, another crazed gunman rained down bullets from his 32nd floor hotel window overlooking an open air concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. Latest report is that 59 have now died from the rampage of a man who, for whatever reason, decided that he would take it upon himself to destroy the innocent lives of those within range of his insanity. The names of those two men do not deserve to be mentioned. Their actions bespeak an evil within that causes us to scratch our heads in bewilderment, and ask, “Why?” And then we listen in vain for an answer! Speaking of those whose lives were snuffed out at the concert, one reporter echoed the popular refrain, “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time!”
Two choices, separated by seven days and twelve hours; choices that placed men and women in situations that ultimately led to the same outcome. There is no way we can judge the hearts of those who were killed by either one of those gunmen. Nor is it within our power to know the spiritual condition of any of any of them. But there is something significant in the choices every one of them made on the Sunday morning of their death. While at least one we know of chose to spend her Sunday in worship to God, thousands in that crowd in Las Vegas chose to attend a country and western concert. There may have been some in that open air theater who had attended a worship service that morning; perhaps some who were members of the Lord’s church, anxious to bow in praise to God prior to engaging in the activities of the evening. Still, the two choices represented by the two activities, both of which were separated by seven days and several hundred miles, is a stark reminder that the choices we make can, and often do, make a difference.
The victims of those two shooting sprees also represent two classes of humanity, separated spiritually in this life, and eternally in the life to come. Even if we grant that at least some of those in Las Vegas might have been faithful members of the Lord’s church, that does not lessen the fact that so many of those who suffered at the hands of the gunman in that ‘city of lights’ were simply not ready to meet their maker that night. Therein is the real tragedy. Not that so many died at the hands of a crazed killer, but that all too many died unprepared to meet their Master. I would not lessen the horrible nature of any of those killings, whether in Tennessee, Las Vegas, or a thousand other towns and hamlets in our country, or the world for that matter. In one instant, each of those victims was thrust into eternity; no warning, no time to prepare; only the twinkling of an eye. Dr. Keith Ablow, columnist for Foxnews, stated it well: “No one is guaranteed another day. Not even another hour. Not a minute. We simply don’t know how many breaths we have left. And what’s more, we don’t know how many breaths those we cherish have left, including even those for whom we would readily die” (Keith Ablow, Foxnews Opinion page).
Finally, there are two destinations represented by the two tragedies of which we speak. In one instant, those precious souls were cast into the night of eternity to await the judgment. Forever gone are the opportunities to hear the gospel. There will be no second chance; no possibility to reverse the destination to which they have now committed their souls. I find myself asking, “Who will be next?” I do not consider myself a pessimist, but I see nothing on the horizon that would suggest these two tragedies will be the last. A nation cannot cast God out of the fiber of its very being and expect God to bless them as before. And so I find myself asking, “Who will be next?” But in the final analysis, it makes no difference whether another crazed killer will end the life of any single one of the seven billion souls still living, or whether it will be by natural death, for “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that cometh the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of this reality, and then do all we can to help prepare men for that inevitable moment when they enter into eternity. It is to that end that we strive; it is to that end that we serve our Savior.
~~~~~By Tom Wacaster