Many thoughts and prayers have been centered around the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Much dialogue, also, has as usual flurried around the matter of gun control and the answers to the questions of why it happened and how now to respond to it. There is so much heartache and brokenness emanating from this tragedy, so much that is horrific about taking the lives of the 26 people killed in what can only be described as a truly evil and cowardly act.
The day after it happened (Monday), I took a brief moment to pause and reflect on our own community and to consider its need for the hope in Jesus Christ that drew together believers there in Sutherland Springs, many of them for the last time.
As I looked out over Gallipolis and the Ohio River from Fortification Hill, my mind was filled with the thoughts of the people in our community, the men and women, boys and girls, their families, their homes, our schools and our churches and I prayed.
I prayed that God would open the hearts and minds of each of us to His presence and to His love. I prayed that He would open our lives to His power and to His hope. I prayed that He open our eyes to recognize that the only true hope that there is the world is found in His “only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
The terrible events of Sutherland Springs were insidious and contemptible in every way. Yet there is for Christians so much that resounds with an unspeakable glory and an unimaginable hope. The child of God has heard and accepted the truth that Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of all who repent and believe in Him (John 1:29) and that knowledge grants him a sure place to plant his feet and stand.
Truly, there is an unbearable pain being felt by the people of Sutherland Springs, a pain that we, in some measure, must each face. But it is not a pain that we must carry upon our shoulders; it is a pain that we find, if we will trust Him through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), that allows Him to lead us onward and upward to an eternal home in His presence.
“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…. We ourselves… groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:18, 23b-24a ESV).
Satan’s enticements and the resulting enslavement of minds, lives, hearts and souls often erupt in obviously wicked and horribly violent ways at times and our initial reaction often is to shy away from God and question His goodness or His power. But when we remember that this life and its trials and pains are not about this life, but about preparing us for the life to come, even death loses its terror as its shadow shrinks in the light of hope in Jesus’ love and power.
Even God has suffered the pain of loss, yet He endured it so that you and I could have a hope that conquers sin and death. His Word delivers to us, by His Holy Spirit, a conviction that He Who faced down death yet rose from the grave, will be with us even today to strengthen us in our walk and fill us with joy, granting to us strength to carry on and to hold out that truth for others to hear and receive as well.
What happened in Sutherland Springs can happen here in Gallipolis, Ohio. But Satan cannot conquer the heart that is already conquered by the glory of Christ. He cannot steal what is eternally grasped in the mighty grip of God Himself.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-32,35-39 ESV).
And that, dear one, is reason for great joy.
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 22 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.