by Edwin Crayton/Opinion
Right now, in Washington, politicians are meeting to try to find answers to the question of how to stop random, mass shootings that continue to plague the nation and which are breaking its heart. As I catch glimpses of those conversations and debates through news reports, it has occurred to me that our progress on this issue is being hindered because there are questions we are overlooking. What I mean is, while it is obviously a good thing that the politicians are asking how we can stop the shootings. I believe an even better question is how can we stop the shooters from wanting to commit such horrific acts in the first place?
What if we could change the minds of the gunmen long before they picked up guns? What if we could reach them at a point when they were receptive to the idea that violent acts are morally wrong and ultimately destroy both the victim and the shooter? We can. The Bible tells us how. Proverbs 22:6 says the key is to reach them when they are at their most receptive stage of life: childhood. It reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” In other words, the training we receive as children—formally or informally—stays with us for a lifetime and has a lasting impact on our decisions as adults (Also see Deuteronomy 6:1-12). Of course, changing minds is not an easy task. But the Scriptures also assure us that we have the help of a resource that does not fail: God is available to help us do his will and bring up children in ways that are obedient to him. In fact, the Bible also says that when a person becomes a Christian, God transforms the mind of the individual (Romans 12:1-2).
But some may ask, why couldn’t God just end these killings through a miracle or something? While it’s true that he could do so, God has historically chosen to work through people. From Abraham to Moses to Peter to Paul and into our modern day, God has worked through ordinary, flawed people. (Mostly because that’s all he’s got to work with.) Still, it is his choice to use mankind to heal and help mankind. That means those of us who are moved by these tragedies are being called to be used by him. God wants to use you and me to be part of the solution to dealing with these random shootings. Being used by God requires being open to new perspectives and new truths, some of which are inconvenient. It will also require self-examination and a willingness to change direction, because God does not follow, he leads.
When the shootings occur, usually there is a tendency to view the shooter as someone who is out of touch with society. While mental illness has played a role in several cases, is it as simple as that? Or are these shooters a product of their society? Think about it. The shooters rely on violence as a solution at a time when our society is also becoming more violent. We are entertained by video games where the players are rewarded for killing. Our reality shows play up conflict. It isn’t hard to find talk shows featuring battling women who fight over men on the air in front of an amused audience—all with no shame. Our two main political parties are becoming so angrily polarized towards one another, they have almost become ineffective at governing. Even as we mourn the killing of children in Uvalde, Texas, an NPR news report has cited a poll that said that 53% of Americans support a woman’s right to an abortion, which is just another way of taking a child’s life. In other words, while some people mourn the death of innocent school kids, they are apparently still alright with the idea of taking the life of innocent children in other ways.
What can we do to contribute to a solution? If you are a Christian, God has already laid out a clear plan. He calls us to be witnesses by living out our Christian values in front of our children. We can start by taking them to church and demonstrating Christ’s love in how we treat other people throughout the week, especially in conflict situations. Do we love even our enemies as Jesus commanded? Or do we respond with violent acts and vulgar words? Trading insult for insult, returning evil for evil. Do we practice prejudice? Or is our love inclusive of all people, regardless of whether they are like us or not? Or whether we agree with them or not? Do we vow to get even or pray to God to help us to forgive? Children watch what we do, especially when we don’t realize they are looking. What they notice can become life lessons which can turn into their personal values. There is an old saying I have a feeling you are probably familiar with: “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” What kind of a tree are you?
We may not mow people down with bullets, but do we mow them down with cruelty or profanity? Many of us have become so comfortable with profanity, until today, you can hear people using it in almost every social setting–even in a business meeting. It’s in the music our children listen to. I’ve heard more than a few young moms call their own children vile names in public: “Come here you B_ _ _ _!” Who are we really more like? The shooters or the victims? These shooters did not come from Mars. They were raised amongst us. When we submit to God’s will, he will help us raise more godly families, resulting in children who at least will grow up having been influenced by God’s values. Of course, there is no guarantee that children will buy into the values we try to teach them. Some will even reject the Christian faith and its teachings. But those who do surrender their lives to Jesus will be transformed by the Holy Spirit to make good moral choices when they submit their decisions to Christ. As Romans 12:1-2 says, their minds will be renewed. Although this does not mean that they will not sin, it does mean that their decisions when influenced by faith and obedience will be spiritually healthier ones. When a person is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he or she is not going to walk into a supermarket and shoot people as the shooter recently did in Buffalo, New York. God’s Holy Spirit would simply not compel anyone to commit such an act.
Realistically, we will always have killers in our midst. It is a sad fact of the flawed human character. But by teaching and encouraging our children to submit their lives to Jesus and persuading them that every life matters, we can begin to build a society that refuses to accept random killings as a normal part of life in the 21th Century. And the less we accept random violence and commit ourselves to stand against it with God’s help, the less such violence is likely to happen.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12:1-2
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