A year ago, a man walked into a building. He looked like any other man but this man was not like the others. This man had a plan. Not a “This is what I want to be when I grow up” plan, no. His plan was one of violence. This man carried a gun loaded with bullets, intending to kill. He probably stopped and glanced around before revealing the weapon. A total of four bullets escaped. Three were injured, but one was killed. Before the fifth bullet could be released, another man stopped the man with the gun. The police arrived along with the ambulance to help clean up the mess that had been made. Students huddled under whatever shelter they could find. Others were in classrooms, barricaded with desks and chairs piled against the door. Fear swept over every person on the campus of the college that had been attacked. For a moment, fear reigned.
Why? Why, oh why, God didn’t You save him? Why, oh why, God didn’t You stop this? Why, oh why, God did he choose our campus? Why, oh why, God? Why?
This was the question that haunted many fellow students, faculty members, and me. All wept, others were angry, and still others shook their fist at God. There were screams, tears, shouts, and broken hearts. Yet when the chaos began to settle, something else became to pull fear back. It was hope.
Hope for the future began to slowly creep, hope in a God that was bigger crept in more, hope that things would be okay one day pulled fear back even more and in another moment, hope that God is still who He says He is had victory over fear.
Yes, hearts were and are still broken. Yes, tears are still shed. Yes, fear comes back once in a while for a visit. Yes, anger pulls at our hearts every so often. But through it all, God is sitting next to us, heart broken, tears spilling, afraid He’ll lose us to fear, and angry at the injustice. He’s also the one sitting next to us, holding us close, bringing us comfort, gently placing peace and healing where the cracks are, and replacing pain with love. There was a new love in each of us not just for the campus, each other, God but also for the man who had attacked us.
I can’t speak for everyone as I write this. These are my thoughts and mine alone. It was very difficult for me to forgive this man and I was convinced I never would. But God being who He is, made it possible. I know that it will be difficult everyday but to the man who tried to destroy a family, I forgive you. This campus isn’t just full of strangers, no, it’s a family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Everyone is loved and we are one. I’m so sorry that your life was hard. I’m so sorry that you were in pain. I’m so sorry. I wish that someone had been there for you. I wish that someone had been able to help. I wish many things. I hope you find peace. I hope you find forgiveness for yourself. I hope your family will be okay one day. I hope so much for you. People from my school may be angry at me for praying for you first but I do it anyway. I can’t pray for my brothers and sisters here on campus with an angry heart so I had to forgive you first and I did. You may not be a part of this campus family but you are still my brother in Christ and that means I still love you. There are many days where it’s because I have to, but as time goes on and God continues to work, it’s becoming more than a necessity. I want to love you because maybe no one else has. Maybe it scares you. Maybe you’ll see God a little bit brighter. Whatever the reason, I know that God loves you as much as He loves me which is so hard for me to type or even to think. I am plagued with thoughts of, “Oh I’m a much better person. I’ve never killed anyone.” but I am reminded that if I am angry at a brother or sister, I have already committed murder in my mind. No, I’m not better than you but I’m not worse than you either. We are equal and for that I love you. I also love my campus family and know that the actions can’t be justified. But I am convinced that I am not the one to judge. It is not my place to condemn you, judge you or punish you. I was hurt by you. We were all hurt by you, the man with the gun. The man with the plan of violence. But brother, that is not all that you are. You are still a child of God. You are still precious and beloved. Jesus died for you too and He would still do it all over again even if you were the only one He was dying for.
You may never see this, brother, but I forgive you and love you. Now let us shed tears for our brother we lost, let us hold hands and stand together, let us sing praises for the life that is still here, and let us shout to the Lord in joy for He is good and His love endures forever. Let’s deal with the confusing emotions. Let’s jump from being happy to sad in a second. Let’s be human. Let’s be together.
I know people may be thinking I should write about my story, I should write about where I was, I should write about how we responded, I should write about this and that. I don’t want to be ready to answer everyone’s questions, I don’t want to be ready for anything. I’m going to be free so God can help me live a life that’s too big to be ready for.
No more asking why. Let’s change it to a what. What can we do now that this is our reality? What can we do to move forward? What can we do to show that God is still here?
To be honest, I have no idea. I just know who God is. I know my June 5th story is one of many and I also know that our stories can be a testimony to who God is and forever will be. It’s another tool in our belt to use to bring Jesus into the world. God can and already has redeemed what was intended for evil into something good for His kingdom. Let’s partner with Him in that. We can be upset, angry and bitter the rest of our lives but what good would that do? We can wrestle with God all we want. Or we can let Him hold us.
I know who God is. That’s all I need to know and I am okay. I might not be in ten minutes, but right now, in this moment, I am okay.