“My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility my uncle says.” Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
My copy of Voice of the Martyrs arrived the other day. The magazine features stories of people who are persecuted because of their Christian faith. This month’s cover photo was of a woman standing in front of a refugee tent. When we think of Christian martyrs, that’s how we imagine them. They are people in far off lands, as if they were from a different time, even from some other planet.
As I opened the envelope, I wondered whether the cover of the next issue would contain a picture of the American college students murdered for their faith in Roseburg, Oregon, last Thursday. Their assailant had commented via the internet before the shootings:
“I have noticed that so many people like [the man who killed the reporter and cameraman in Virginia recently] are alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”
This shooter was looking for notoriety, seeking that limelight. Deep down, he yearned for significance. He wanted people to notice him. He didn’t care how. In the meantime, he had an ax to grind. He killed those who identified themselves as Christians. He wounded others who said they weren’t Christians or stayed silent.
(I wonder about the silent ones. Silent deniers? What would I do?)
This shooter was not the first one to use religion as a criterion for death. The Columbine shooters shot those who said they believed in God. This killer was more specific in his quest to kill Christians.
In the meantime, some politicians are screaming for more gun control as if declaring the campus a “gun-free” zone actually means something to someone so determined to kill. We forget that just a generation or two ago, we were a nation in which it was common for 12 year old boys to own their own BB guns. Most boys and many girls learned weapon safety, how to hunt, how to be responsible gun owners. What changed was not the guns, but the people.
Ray Bradbury was among those who saw the violence of our times when it was still on the horizon. Decades ago, Mother Teresa diagnosed our illness. In Seven Women, Eric Metaxas provides her insight:
“It was in the affluent West that Mother Teresa began to realize the extent of what she called ‘spiritual poverty.’ During a visit to London, she observed, ‘Here you have the Welfare State. Nobody need starve. But there is a different poverty. The poverty of the spirit, of loneliness and being unwanted.'”
So many American young people have completely lost their sense of innate meaning. ‘Why have they lost it?’ is the querying elephant in the room. There is a simple answer: Life that is transitory has no meaning. Secular meaninglessness outshouts the message that life has eternal value. A soul never ends.
Only Christ followers can convey this message. But a sleepy Church has been quiet if not silent.
A few people woke up last week, stood up, and proclaimed their kinship with Christ. A lonely, hurting soul thought that he silenced them.
They shout still.
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