A lot has been written about what happened last Friday. Honestly, it all still shakes me to the core. I have read a lot about it, seen a lot about it. I am heartsick, as are all of you.
Here is my honest thought when I heard what happened on Friday – “Wow, this must be what hell is like. When all good is simply eradicated…when there is no trace of God and his holiness/goodness/love – when all that is left is no sign of God – we see the murders of “the least of these” with no known motive…murdered with assault rifles…this is truly a mere glimpse of hell on earth…”
Since Friday, I’ve come to learn that the Greek word “Gehenna” (translated “hell”) was used twelve times in the New Testament, with Jesus employing it eleven of the twelve times. I’ve come to learn (through reading, research, etc.) that in Old Testament times “Gehenna” was a reference to the “valley of Hinnom,” which was a place of child sacrifice under some of the godless kings of Israel. The children were sacrificed to the false god Molech. A fire burned in the stomach of the idol while the child was placed in the arms and then sacrificed.
Jesus used the symbolism of Gehenna to describe a place of everlasting punishment. Gehenna also can refer to “refuse” or a “dumping ground” as that is literally what the place became after Josiah put a stop to the child sacrifices, but I think what Jesus is getting at is much more than simply a “dumping ground.” I think Jesus is referring to the spiritual implications of murdering (whether physically or spiritually) “the least of these.”
He spoke concerning Gehenna not only to warn people, but to condemn the hypocritical religious leaders, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, to make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).
The awful event that unfolded Friday is a stark reminder of the “mortality” of us all, including the “least of these.” It’s a stark reminder of the spiritual war at large (see a great article on this here) and evidence of the “god of this world”/Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4 – NLT) demonstrating his character as a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).
It reminded me that EVERYONE I interact with immortal. To quote C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory” –
“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often of too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all plays, all politics. There are no ORDINARY people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
A convicting reminder for me. And definitely something I want my son to think about/understand as he grows older. We are here for just a glimpse in time. Oh, for eyes to see things from the standpoint of eternity!
James 4:14 – “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
2 Corinthians 4:17 – “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
I need a constant reminder that all of my daily interactions with people matter for eternity. It saddens me that it takes incidents like Aurora and Newton to remind me of this. However, for many people – this is/has become a way of life. For the families involved in the Newton shootings last week, this is very sadly their new “normal.” They will forever will marked by the horror of what happened on Friday. Yet, there are many people out there who, though not involved in “mass incidents” are still dealing with the same kinds of losses. I’ve written on this before (after the Aurora shootings – see the article here). Unexplained deaths, senseless horrors, loss of innocent lives. Just a few weeks ago, we learned of some friends who unexpectedly lost their small baby. Evil is everywhere. After the loss, they posted this sermon that helped them through this dark time in their life and I want to share it here because I think it’s relevant for the young lives that were cut short on Friday as well (FYI this sermon is not about their son, but is rather a sermon that John Piper wrote years ago that helped them navigate through questions concerning the loss of their son):
May God be with the families of the those this world lost last Friday. As are many of you, I am constantly praying that God wraps all of them up in his love, peace, and comfort as only He can. There is no way they can make it through something so horrific without the Father’s hand. Let’s continue to pray for them. Yet, let’s also continue to pray that they know the Lord (or will come to know Him) and that somehow, someway (as only God can), He can take this ugly mess and use it to point people to Jesus and their need for him. As I’ve done before, I want to close with a quote by Laura Black, who the world lost to cancer this past year as well:
“Nothing grabs someone’s attention like seeing someone suffer and living out the Christian life during it. Let’s face it, you can sing the Hallelujah chorus when you just won the lottery, your first grandchild was just born on your birthday, or you just got a huge promotion, but who cares? I’m not saying it’s not good to praise God for those things. Of course you should praise God for those things and rejoice in them. But that doesn’t point people to the cross. When you rejoice and praise Him in the good times, that is expected. However, when you rejoice and praise God in the middle of the suffering, that points people to the cross….When people see us do that, they know it’s nothing but the blood of Jesus. Only the love of Jesus, only the faithfulness of the Father, could bind our hearts so closely to Him during these times. That is why suffering for the Gospel is such a privilege – it gives us a chance to point people to Jesus. And isn’t that what this life is all about? We have all of eternity to live with Jesus in health, wealth and happiness. But we only have a brief blip on the timeline of eternity to point people to Jesus. And that’s the only chance we have of making any type of real impact during our lives – to point people to Jesus.”