In his weekly email to the church, Coty wrote:
On Monday, Cho Seung-Hui methodically killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before killing himself. This mass murder is disturbing in part because it doesn’t fit into any of our normal categories of thought. Race, class, age, nationality, religion – none of these factors made a difference to Cho. He was an equal opportunity killer. His victims include both professors and fellow students. Ranging in age from 18 to 76, nine of the 32 were born outside the fifty states. Their home countries include China, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Romania, and Peru. Young, old, black, white, foreign, native, Moslem, Christian – there was no pattern. Their only link: a public university in the Virginia mountains.
Thus, for those of us with children studying at colleges and universities away from home, the news was particularly chilling: Such institutions seem relatively safe. Were we wrong to think so? The rush to find some error, some flaw in the university administration’s response to Cho’s earlier behavior and the early-morning murders is driven in part by this desire to isolate the case, to say, “My college, my university, my son’s university, is different – this could never happen there.”
But it could happen...anywhere...at any time. Coty continued by highlighting three Biblical mandates for us in the aftermath of the VT tragedy:
First: Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). A time will come for analysis, for figuring out if there are lessons for public policy or for other institutions of higher education. But now, those who suffer need our prayers, our comfort. So may we pray for those who are suffering now.
Second: Ask yourself: Am I ready to die? Not one of those 32 victims woke up on Monday thinking this would be the last day of his or her life. Not one anticipated that plans for the next week, for summer vacation, for graduation and retirement, would never come to pass. Life is precarious. We hang by a thread. We could die today, tomorrow, next week. We never know. So: Are you at peace with God? Have you kept short accounts with relatives and friends? What must you do before you die? To whom must you be reconciled?
Third: Remember the big picture. Do this in three ways:
a) Remember other, regular tragedies. The Virginia Tech shootings especially touch my heart, since I spent 18 years studying or teaching on college campuses, and since my oldest son Jonathan is presently at college. But these 32 deaths are only one small part of the daily tragedy of life in this sin-filled world. Consider:
* In the four days since the shootings, more people have died in the US as a result of underage alcohol abuse than were killed by Cho Seung-Hui.
* On average, 40 people are murdered every day somewhere in the US. We don’t hear about many of them, since they happen in ones and twos. But every day, families lose loved ones; people die senselessly.
* For the last four years, on average more than four times as many people die in Darfur, Sudan, every day as were killed at Virginia Tech. Every day. Men, women, and children. 140 people a day. In a region with a population about the same as North Carolina’s.
* Worldwide, on average more than 2500 little children die every day of malaria. And these deaths are largely preventable with a modest investment of money. (Coty read this aloud to us at the table the morning he wrote it and as he read these last two items, he and I were choked up with tears. When you've lived in Africa, as we have, you've seen the suffering of warfare and disease).
We live in a tragic world. Here in the US, we can go for long periods of time pretending otherwise. But that doesn’t change the fact of tragedy. Jesus Himself tells us, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). So use this unusual tragedy to open your eyes and your prayers for the victims of ongoing tragedies around the world.
b) As you remember other, regular tragedies, remember the greatest tragedy. Paul tells us, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” As much sorrow as we feel when a loved one dies, if he or she is entering the presence of Christ, dying is gain. The greatest tragedy is for those who do not know Christ, and are thus objects of God’s wrath, without hope. So use this unusual tragedy as a springboard to take more seriously the command to be Jesus’ witnesses in your own neighborhood, in your workplace, in this city, and to the ends of the earth.
c) Finally: Remember the big picture by remembering Who is in control. The same Pilate who mingled Gentile blood with Jewish sacrifices condemned Jesus to death. He was responsible for this evil, unjust deed. And yet God had foreordained that Jesus must die (Acts 4:27-28). God was pleased to crush His Son (Isaiah 53:10). He could have stopped Pilate at any time. Yet He did not. He intended this evil act by an evil man for the very good purpose of redeeming those from every tribe and tongue and nation to Himself.
We continue to pray for the families of students and faculty who were slain, for the family of the shooter, and for the Virginia Tech community. May God bring comfort and healing for the hurting and strength and wisdom for those who are ministering to them.
I'm still feeling a bit quiet, but look forward in the next day or so to sharing some precious moments of peace and beauty in another beautiful garden that I visited last week. So...more soon.