So it’s thirteen years later, and the emotions are the same.
I woke up this morning to a text from my mother informing me that 12 people have been killed, and 38 injured, in a shooting at a Denver area movie theatre during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, the finale of the latest Batman movie trilogy.
I’m still trying to process everything, but as a Colorado native, I can tell you that the raw, gut-feeling that I have is exactly as it was in 1999, when I learned of the shooting at Columbine High School, also in the Denver area.
The parallels between the shootings are eerie. Both involve shooters with multiple guns in trench coats walking through the crowd, picking off victims at random without emotion. Both have movie-related connections. And I fear that the reaction from Christians will be the same as well.
In the wake of the horrific shooting at Columbine that resulted in 14 deaths and dozens of injuries, Christians all across the country jumped on the opportunity to blame society and Hollywood for the demise of culture. They pointed out the similarities of scenes in movies like The Basketball Diaries and The Matrix, and the constant barrage of first-person shooter games like Doom, and proudly declared that the problem was that our culture had become so corrupt and obsessed with evil, that something like Columbine was inevitable.
We took some solace in stories of victims like Cassie Bernal and Rachel Scott, who stood strong in the face of the shooters who sought them out simply because of their faith in God. We celebrated these martyrs for their boldness, as we should have. But we missed the bigger point.
The problem was not society and culture. The problem was us.
And so now I sit in a hotel lobby in Flagstaff, Arizona, preparing myself for what I’m sure will be a countless parade on TV, radio, and print, of Christian pundits all wagging their fingers at a world that is dark and hopeless and obsessed with death and destruction, and completely missing the point.
The terrifying shooting in Denver last night is not the fault of Hollywood; it’s not the fault of society; it’s not the fault of a world walking further and further away from the Truth.
The shooting in Denver yesterday is the fault of the Church.
Yes, the world is getting darker. The movies out of Hollywood are getting more and more violent. Society is becoming more and more obsessed with evil. But these facts are not the problem; they are only the symptoms. When we see the world getting darker and darker, we have to wonder where the light has gone.
Better to light a candle, than curse the darkness. – Chinese Proverb
Jesus told His followers how they were to impact the world:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. – Matthew 5:14-15
The world is darker, because the light is not shining. Those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus, must understand that the light is absent because our influence is absent. At best, we are hiding our light. We have thrown up our hands and said, “There’s nothing we can do about.” And let’s be honest enough to call this attitude what it is: sin.
Let me be clear: being light does not mean complaining about the darkness. It means showing Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him. We must be different. We must demonstrate to the world that there is another way. We must show the world that there is light. The world is searching for it.
Instead of looking at the world and shaking our heads, what if we had the guts to admit that we are largely responsible? What if we fell on our faces before our Savior who has left us in the world to shine His light, and asked forgiveness for our failure to make the world a better place?
When the world gets darker, the reasonable person understands that darkness is not the problem, but rather the absence of light. You don’t sit in a room yelling and cursing because it keeps getting darker; you walk over and turn on the light.
So again, out of death and destruction, the Church has an opportunity to “turn on the light.” We can repent of our failures and shortcomings, and seek to live lives that show a different path; a path of life; of hope; of a future. Or we can do what we did thirteen years ago, shirk our responsibility, and wag our fingers at a world consumed by darkness.
Out of darkness, the Light of Jesus can shine forth.
But it’s up to us.