Brady: Life is a gift to be treasured

Published 6:50 pm Monday, November 13, 2017

So tragic! I’m referring to the recent deadly church shootings at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At the latest report, 26 people were killed and 20 others wounded. There are simply no adequate words to describe such an horrendous evil act, regardless of the motive. Our prayers are continually needed and encouraged for the victim’s families, the wounded, the church and community, law enforcement and governmental officials, responders and Samaritans and for our nation.

Dr. Jim Denison, of the Denison Forum, reported that shootings at churches have become so common that a “National Church Shooting Database” has been created. He further stated that database authorities show that 139 shootings at churches occurred between 1980 and 2005, resulting in 185 people killed, including 36 children. And, of course, there have been numerous other shootings at churches or on religious grounds since then.

Though, at the moment, church shootings are on my mind, there are all those other societal shootings as well-in the theater, schools, malls, concerts, recreational areas and other places. There is no safe haven anywhere. It seems that our nation and world are plunging deeper and deeper into a dungeon of violence and discord. And our human solutions seem unable to reach the depth of our complexities. But over against all this misery, God says, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Originally, this commandment was not intended to stop all killing. The Jewish people themselves were authorized to take the lives of those who broke certain of the commandments. And obviously, they continued to participate in “just” and “holy” wars. But the heartless, indiscriminate and unjustified killing of one individual by another had to stop. There could simply be no orderly society where private acts of violence were tolerated.

In the Sermon on the Mount, however, Jesus takes this a step further. He states, “ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…” (Matthew 5:22). Thus, the old law forbids murder, but the new law declares that anger, bitterness, prejudice, contempt and other forms of violence are just as serious sins in the sight of God. So what is the Christian alternative to the violence of our times? First, we are called to re-stake out God’s ownership of life. We are to discover or rediscover the Christian estimate of person-hood. Lorado Taft, American sculptor and educator, in setting up a statue of a boy by Italian sculpture, Donatello, put some lights around it. Initially, he put the lights down on the floor shining up on the boy’s face. As he stepped back and looked at it, he was shocked-the boy looked like a moron. So he changed the lights. He tried every arrangement. Finally, he put the lights above, until they shone down on the boy’s face. Then he stood back and smiled, for the boy looked like an angel.

That’s the way it is. When we look at humankind from an earthly level we do not see humankind’s sacredness. But when we look at humankind from above — through the eyes of God and the Christian faith — then all life becomes sacred. The uniqueness of humankind is not in the fact that humankind was created by God. All things were created by the hand of God. Humankind’s dignity or sacredness comes in the fact that they were created in the image of God, made a little lower, yet in God’s likeness. Therefore, every person is God’s life and sacred, and no one has the right to violate the life of another.

Second, we are called to take a fresh look within. God said, “You shall not murder.” We reply, “I’m not guilty. I haven’t done that. I would never murder or kill anybody.” Perhaps, however, we should stop at the end of each day and consider, “Have I killed any fellow human being  today with anger or hatred or prejudice or contempt? Is my fellow human being a dead weight at the bottom of my heart?” In his work “Stride Toward Freedom,” Martin Luther King, Jr. admonished his people “to avoid not only violence of deed but of violence of spirit.” Killing, you see, isn’t simply a matter of what we do. It’s a matter of what we think and say. It’s a matter of attitude.

Third, we are challenged to turn the negative into a positive. It’s not enough just to refrain from murder or hate or anger or prejudice or contempt. We are actually challenged to replace the negatives of our societal violence and discord with a positive. We are challenged to embrace life with kindness.

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father who is in heaven…” (Matthew 5: 44,45). In other words, we are to do more than refrain from killing or hating. We are to be so converted to a spirit of love that we want to give life, not take it. Christians are to be life-giving people — channels of grace for a life-giving God. Psychiatrist Robert Coles tells about Ruby, the little girl who integrated a Southern elementary school. Every day the federal marshals had to escort Ruby through a mob of adults who spat at her and called her hateful names. Remarkably, the 5-year-old girl did not seem to be emotionally damaged by the ordeal, a fact that puzzled Coles until he discovered that Ruby prayed every day asking God to forgive her persecutors.

When God first appears in human history in the Bible, God doesn’t appear in church or in a religious context. God finds Cain out in the field where Cain labored. And, God asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Genesis 4:9). And in the light of our violent society and God’s sixth commandment, God is asking us that same question today, “Where is your brother?”

Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways.