59 dead. Over 500 injured. The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
This is the news that we all woke up to on Monday morning as a result of the tragic events that took place in Las Vegas on Sunday night. A 64-year old man made his way up to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and sent a hailstorm raining down on innocent concert-goers for Lord knows what reason, and now we wake up and fall to our knees as we ask God a short but extremely important question: “Why?”
What does this mean for all of us? What does it mean for Christians as people begin to accuse our God of malevolence or claim that this incomprehensible evil is proof of His inexistence? How are we supposed to live faithfully in a world where evil runs rampant and we are striving to live like Noah in a world that’s unaware of the Flood that’s coming? How do we respond to this pain, this suffering, this tragedy? What cold we possibly do to cope with the outbreaks of hatred and violence in the world that surrounds us?
I’ve got 4 words for you: Pray. Preach. Persevere. Prepare.
Our first response to anything in life – whether blessing or strife, conflict or success – is 100%, absolutely, positively, no-doubts-about-it prayer. Go to God with everything. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). Talk with God. Be with Him. Be real with Him. Tell Him your concerns, speak to Him your thoughts, pour out the contents of your mind. But at the same time, do it all with thankfulness and gratitude; don’t linger on just the bad things, but look for the silver linings and linger on the ways in which there is something to be learned from all that you experience in life. Whenever David’s son died as a result of his sin with Bathsheba, he got up and praised the Lord nevertheless, knowing that wallowing in his own self-pity was a pointless attempt that undermined the very purpose which his punishment was meant to serve (2 Samuel 12:20-23); often times, suffering is meant to direct us back to God, so amidst your sorrow and pain, remember to give thanks to God, grateful for all that He has done, is doing, and continues to do in your life.
All this being said, don’t let your prayer be only about yourself; especially in times of tragedy, I think it’s safe to say that praying for the families of those killed and for the lives of those injured and the souls of all affected is extremely important. There is power in prayer – “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14) – so take advantage of that power! Don’t take these verses out of context to assume that God will give you anything you want, but recognize that the Bible consistently preaches that prayer moves God, leads Him to make certain decisions out of His love for us. So pray for those around you, pray for those effected, pray for those in need or prayer. Don’t just pray for yourself, even though it’s so easy to do so.
One final point about prayer: Remember that it’s a conversation, not a time for your own personal monologue to God. Don’t talk at Him; talk with Him. Listen to His response. Wait patiently for Him to speak to you (though I will warn you: it is rarely through an audible voice). I think of Martin Luther, who once said, “I have so much to do today that I'm going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” We should view prayer as a restful conversation shared with the Lord of all the universe, who listens to us and wants to speak back, and it should be so beneficial and crucial in our day-to-day lives that our day feels incomplete if time has not been spent with God in prayer.
I think that our call to share the Gospel flows naturally out of prayer. In a world filled with heartbreak and tragedy, who better than Christians to rise from the ashes and share their message of joy and salvation, the promise of an eternal life free of all pain and suffering? The event that took place Sunday night happened in the very place known as “Sin City” – why should we have allowed this moniker to become applicable in the first placed? Even Penn Jillette (of Pen & Teller fame), a well-known atheist, has been quoted as saying, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” And that’s coming from an atheist! As we see violence increasing in the world, this should be our motivation to hit up the streets and start preaching in truth and love.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…we don’t know why God allows specific tragedies to happen, but the Bible does give us different possibilities. We see that, typically, pain and suffering serves the purpose of  reminding of us the brokenness of the world in which we live (Gen 3; Rom 8:20-23),  encouraging our full dependence on God (John 9:3; Heb 12:6-7),  producing perseverance in the hearts of those who profess faith in Christ (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 1:5, 4:11),  pointing us towards the bliss of heaven (Rom 8:18; 1 Pet 4:13; Psa 126:5; Isa 61:3), and, yes,  punishing sin (Rom 6:23; Gal 4:1-2; Jas 4:1-2). It should also be noted that not all suffering is a result of someone’s sinful act, and likewise there is some suffering that only God knows and will ever know the purpose of (see the book of Job).
During times such as this, atheists come along and claim that God doesn’t exist and that tragedies such as what happened in Vegas do nothing but prove their point. The irony is that they don’t see the fallacy in their own argument! We’ve kicked God out of our schools, out of our households, out of our governments, and heck, even out of some of our churches, so why do we expect Him to show up now? We need to make up our minds: Do we want God or not? He is a gentleman; He will not force Himself upon those who do not want Him, but will respond to those who call upon His name. So allow this tragedy to inspire you to action, to spread the Gospel far and wide so that we, as a people, can turn back to God. From beginning to end, the Bible preaches about a God of grace, so perhaps in our desire to repent and turn to Him, He will relent in His judgment on us just as He did to the Israelite people time and time again.
We’ve addressed the necessary response in regards to our prayer lives and the increased need to share our message of grace with the surrounding nations, but how should we personally handle this tragedy? What if we have lost loved ones or find ourselves struggling in our faith as we strive to find the balance between a world of suffering and its governance by an omnipotent, benevolent God? Things like this are hard to process even for the most devout and steadfast of Christians, so how are we to work through this?
My answer to you is to persevere. As I stated in the section above, God often allows suffering in our lives to help produce perseverance within us, so let all conflict in your life serve this purpose within you. If you spend time in the Word, I can guarantee you that God will grant you peace by displaying to you similar characters in similar situations that you will find extremely relatable, where somebody in the biblical text has encountered some sort of pain that didn’t make sense to them, but, by turning to God, found peace as He took care of and provided for their every need. If your faith is faltering, open up your Bible. Pray some more. Find some solid believers and pour your heart into them, see if they can point you in the right direction. Don’t give up on God, but instead push through the fire and recognize that He is with you even in the furnace. The Bible does not avoid the topic of suffering by acting like it won’t happen; indeed, it was Jesus who said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He didn’t say you might have tribulation; he said that you will. Absolutely. Positively. No doubts about it. You will have suffering in your life and you will see some horrible things whether you like it or not – that’s the result of sin, and this has been the case ever since Adam and Eve. The selling point of our Gospel is that, even amidst the storm, God grants us peace.
My final piece of advice in the face of pain and suffering and evil in the world is to prepare for the days to come, because I hate to break it to you, but things are just going to get worse.
Perhaps it is out of selfishness that I hunger for Christ’s return (for surely the more selfless part of me would bid Him to stay away a bit longer so that we could reach more of the lost), but I think that tragic events such as what happened in Vegas can serve as reminders for us that we need to prepare for the days that will be coming very, very soon. Just to display to you how increasingly evident and soon Christ’s return seems to be, I’ve compiled a series of verses that tell us things we should be on watch for as the last days approach:
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:3-14)
From the passage here, we see that Christ’s return will be preceded by an increase in false prophets who lead many (not just a few) astray. Wars will increase and the threat of war will be continual, nation will rise again nation and natural disasters will increase throughout the earth. And these are just the beginning. Christians will be persecuted and hated for bearing the name of Christ, crime and overall lawlessness will skyrocket, the people will forget how to love properly (in the way that the Bible speaks of love, that is), and many people who once professed faith will fall away. Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps the only thing I can see that doesn’t yet apply in this passage is the persecution of Christians, but all the same I speak from the perspective of a college-aged student living in the midst of the Bible Belt; in other parts of the world, people daily die for their belief in Christ, and even in America Christian beliefs are dying off as each sun sets. A similar passage to this is found in Luke 21.
But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase. (Daniel 12:4)
In the end times, people will be constantly on the move and there will be an increase in knowledge, both intellectually and spiritually. Spiritual knowledge was granted to us through the completion of Christ’s work on the cross and the final writings that make up the Biblical text (as well as through modern Christian leaders who daily stand up for the true Word of God), but intellectual knowledge is, I think, the one that resonates with us more than ever. In the last century alone mankind has seen the greatest technological advancements than ever before, and knowledge is sitting in our pockets.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Apart from the last days being described as “times of difficulty,” let’s focus on those bold descriptions Paul uses here. Lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient, etc… This is the “Treat yoself” mindset in which we live today, the culture where people are focused on the things of this world rather than the things of God. In the past, cultures at least trained their attention on false deities by recognizing their necessary dependence on some sort of superior force, but nowadays people attempt to rely on nothing but their own self. One article I read said that we have turned theology into meology. Wickedness abounds and impurity surrounds, and sadly when looking into culture God ne’er can be found. We have forsaken self-control to instead embrace a feeling-based society in which we are encouraged to “follow your heart” and “do whatever feels right to you,” our schools teaching moral relativity rather than the objective moral truths once held in the past. Many people profess to believe in God but are in fact wolves in sheep’s clothing, singing not to God Himself but perhaps the watered-down idea of God that they have created for themselves. Our Gospel has been twisted and resultantly all sense of morality has gone out the window.
Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. (2 Peter 3:3-6; Jude 1:18)
In the last days, people will pursue their own desires and scoff at the very idea of Jesus Christ’s return. We live in a world that tries to argue, despite endless amounts of historical evidence, that Jesus existed in the first place, so how can we expect them to believe that he will return at some point in the future? The end times will be populated by a nation of people who deny that a spiritual realm even exists, despite the fact that creation in and of itself shouts the existence of God from horizon to horizon. People will deny that there was a God who even created the universe (Sound familiar? You might have learned theories like this since you elementary school days) and they will do whatever appears right to them, going about their own passions without any remorse or guilt while scoffing at those who try to live godly lives and pursue truth. Football players will be applauded for disrespecting our country while they kneel during the national anthem, but the moment Tim Tebow kneels down to say a prayer, he is someone to be made fun of.
All this being said, I hope you understand the reason I encourage you to be prepared. For all you, I, or anybody knows, Christ might not come back for a thousand or a million years, but it remains true that he could return at any given moment – “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2). So, in light of the Vegas massacre and what it means in regards to lawlessness and increased crime, let Christ’s very possible imminent return motivate you to likewise pray, preach, and persevere all the more.
To end, I want to encourage you with this: Cultivate your spiritual life by spending time conversing with God each and every day; share the Gospel with as many people as possible so that when Christ does return many more will join you as brothers and sisters in the eternal kingdom; cling to your faith as the foundation on which you stand amidst trials and tribulations; and, lastly, get ready for the days to come, because as creation begins to moan for its Creator, He will hear those moans and He will return.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:20-21).