Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE MASSACRE AT VIRGINIA TECH”

Lamentations 3.21-41

 

In response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech on Monday morning, with the senseless slaughter of 32 students and professors, I would like to speak to you this evening, ending up in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. Please excuse the fact that I have not had the time to prepare a sermon, but have simply compiled some thoughts, some observations, and some conclusions and applications while mourning the loss of those kids and teachers.

Why Lamentations? Lamentations was written on the occasion of a tragedy far worse than the one experienced by the students and faculty at Virginia Tech.

Before you conclude that I am insensitive and harsh, consider what happened Monday morning, as tragic as it was, in the context of the totality of human experience and suffering. A lone gunman shot and killed either 32 victims who died instantly or shortly after being shot. Thus, there was no long-term suffering, no torture, and no starvation.

Lamentations, on the other hand, was written on the occasion of the siege of Jerusalem and the carnage accompanying destruction of the entire population’s way of life after a prolonged period of warfare and the starvation and cannibalism that was associated with the siege of Jerusalem.

At Virginia Tech, the victims were single members of each family. In Jerusalem, entire households were wiped out, not with a single terrifying stroke, but because of prolonged warfare and starvation.

The citizens of our country, as well as people from around the world, are mourning the loss of life in that small college town in western Virginia. However, those few who were alive in Judea after the fall of Jerusalem were in such a state of shock, and so numbed by the annihilation of their culture and way of life, that mourning reach a level never before seen.

I propose to visit this matter of the massacre that took place Monday morning, after which we will turn to God’s Word for applications to our life, for conclusions to this matter, and then close the evening with a reading and comments from Lamentations. As we proceed, let us recognize that our own approach to this matter is much different than is the case of those who are caught up in their grief, with their immediate and painful sense of loss. Were I counseling those who had lost loved ones at Virginia Tech, be assured that I would approach this matter differently, with gentleness and prayerful compassion for their raw emotions and sense of sudden loss.

 

We Begin With Some OBSERVATIONS

 

These are not particularly clever observations, but they are observations that seem to me to be irrefutable:

 

First, let it be observed that the victims were not at fault. According to NBC News, Ryan Clark was shot at 7:15 AM. At 7:18, Emily Hilscher was murdered. Sometime today, NBC received a package sent overnight mail by the shooter, which arrived a day late because he used the incorrect address and the wrong zip code. Apparently, the two hours between the first two shootings and the rampage, that ended with thirty more victims dead and his own life taken by suicide was spent packaging and mailing pictures and videos that he had made over the previous few days. Then, at 9:21 AM, he went on his final killing spree, with no known connection at this time between the shooter and the rest of the victims. The point that I seek to make, then, is that the victims were slain through no known fault of their own. They said nothing and did nothing to provoke the shooter. They were just there.

Next, it is observed that no one else on the campus was armed. Virginia Tech is very proud to have a no weapons policy on their campus. The result, of course, is that absolutely no one had any weapon available for self-defense, except for the campus police officers. About a year ago student was detained for bringing a weapon on campus, but there was no indication that he meant anything by doing that. No threats were made and no actions by that student suggested any intent to do anyone any harm. He just had a pistol. Thus, with 25,000 students on campus, plus the thousands of teachers and other university staff, not one person had a weapon of any kind, leaving the shooter free to do what he wanted, where he wanted, to whom he wanted.

Third, it is observed that the mass murderer was lonely. Interviews with his two roommates seemed to suggest that the shooter was resistant to their efforts to befriend him, to strike up conversations with him, and to be nice to him. A news broadcast during the day today expressed the discovery that this pattern of solitude and friendlessness continued a pattern that was typical throughout his years in high school. This is not to say that all school shooters are like this young man was, but an article titled “The Classroom Avenger,” from the May-June 1999 issue of Forensic Examiner lists some of the characteristics of classroom avengers as physically healthy, family anger and power struggles, a dysfunctional but superficially normal family, member of an alienated group, problems with attaching and bonding, distrustful and secretive with adults in authority, immature, no participation in prosocial groups, and recent psychological stressors including rejection, discipline, or humiliation. The murderer, as evil as his actions were, gives evidence of being a tragically lonely young man without any friends.

Finally, let it be observed that police do not protect victims! I dealt with this issue during chapel today, so I do not want any students to speak up. Why was it that the police did not protect the students and faculty at Virginia Tech? Why was it the police did not protect anyone at Columbine High School? Aside from the fact that police assumed the first shootings were domestic violence issues and the shooter had left the campus, left the city, and perhaps left the state, thereby giving him two hours to prepare for the even more deadly rampage that resulted in thirty more people being killed, why did the police do nothing during the thirty minute shooting spree that began at 9:15 AM? One report indicates the shooter was killing people for fifteen minutes before anyone bothered to dial 911. But even then, police arrived on the scene and did not enter the building until after all the shooting had stopped. The shooting stopped only when the murderer committed suicide. The campus police chief emphatically stated that at no time did campus police engage the shooter.

Why is it usually the case that police will not protect you? Can anyone answer that? The police cannot protect you because they are usually not there. In addition, even when they are there, their own procedures usually prevent them from taking action to stop the progress of a killer until the killer pauses for some reason. Thus, for most situations, police will not be in a position to protect anyone from a random act of violence. I wish things were not this way, but my own experience when I had to defend myself against two attackers in the middle of the night was that the Monrovia Police responded, covering that long 1½ miles from the police station to my house in only twenty minutes.

Police arrive on the scene after the damage has been done. They come along to arrest the drunks, to supervise the cleanup of the mess, and to apprehend idiots who have fled the scene of the crime, typically leaving an abundance of evidence behind showing who they are and where they can be found. That is typically what happens. Thus, what happened at Virginia Tech is typically what happens because crimes are usually committed where police are not.

 

Now Let Me Rehearse To You Some DOCTRINES

 

Doctrines are truths, verities, things you can hold on to in the valleys as well as on the mountaintops. Doctrines do not depend upon circumstances or situations. Doctrines are truths that endure the test of not only time, but also adversity. Doctrines are facts, and as John Adams, our country’s second president once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”[1]

I propose that in times of great tragedy and chaos, when everything under your feet is shaking and moving, and nothing in life seems stable and reliable, certain things can be relied upon as steady and unmoving:

First, there is the doctrine of man’s mortality. People die. I am not suggesting for a moment that death is not a great tragedy, that it is not associated with suffering and terrible loss, just that from the dawn of human history death has been an unavoidable fact of life. It is a doctrine established not only by observation and experience, but also by declaration. God’s plan for sinful men is that we die. Hebrews 9.27: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” There is no escaping death. The only variables are when and how you will die, not whether you will die. Thus, do not get your hopes up too high that you will live much longer, or that your loved ones will live much longer. You will die, and so will I. But when? No one knows. Therefore, it is wise to be prepared for death, since it is certain you will die. Were those students and teachers at Virginia Tech prepared to die? I do not know anything about any of them. I hope they were ready to enter eternity, because they did enter eternity suddenly and without the opportunity to make any last minute preparations.

Next, the doctrine of man’s depravity. Nelson Mandella was aired on television yesterday about some unrelated issue. I noticed that the former ruler of South Africa commented on man’s underlying goodness. The Muslim cleric and the liberal Lutheran minister who spoke at Virginia Tech’s convocation yesterday also made comments about the goodness of mankind. My friends, that is so much rubbish. Man is utterly depraved, with anything appearing to be good being the result of God’s grace in any individual’s life. The main difference between that shooter and every other student on campus is that shooter’s behavior more closely reflected his nature, whereas the rest of the students are constrained by the means used by the Holy Spirit, as He restrains sinful man’s impulses. Make no mistake about it. Men are evil, wicked, mean, and nasty. If you make it to the end of your days and die a natural death from old age, rather than suffer death at the hands of some malicious fiend, whether he is wielding a gun or wearing a white smock, mark it down to God’s grace. Galatians 1.4 declares that Jesus Christ died on the cross to “deliver us from this present evil world.” Thus, if you are not saved by Jesus Christ . . . you will suffer the fate of everyone else in this evil world. In addition, even if Jesus Christ saves you, you may face martyrdom at the hands of this present evil world. A young butcher shot those poor kids and nice teachers. That is so sad, and my heart goes out to them and their families. Oh, how they will be missed. But it is Bible doctrine that those people were going to die, just and you and I are going to die. And the doctrine of depravity explains why they died the way they did, at the hands of a wicked young man.

Third, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. No verse needs to be cited to show that God does what He chooses, when He chooses, how He chooses, where He chooses, with whom He chooses. The complete freedom of God’s will to decide and to act is the result of His sovereignty. God rules over all. Thus, that shooter was a student of that college, rather some other college, as a direct result of God’s sovereign providential dealings in his life. The same reasoning explains why those victims were where they happened to be. One pastor e-mailed and asked for a suggested response to an interview he was facing, where he anticipated the question, “How could God let something like this happen?” My response to him was, “When this country seeks to remove God’s influence from every aspect of society and culture, how dare anyone complain or question the results of God withdrawing His restraint of evil? Things like this happen as a direct result of God not influencing a young man’s life. God cannot be blamed for the logical consequence of our country’s wishes.”

Which brings me to the doctrine of God’s goodness. God is good, and His goodness endures forever. Psalm 52.1 shows us that “the goodness of God endureth continually.” Does the sun shine? God is good. Does air fill your lungs? God is good. Did you have a roof over your head last night? Just another evidence of God’s goodness. To be sure, things happen that we do not understand. Lazarus was sick and Jesus did not immediately depart to be at his side. However, Jesus still loved Lazarus and God is still good. There are events which occur that challenge our understanding of God’s nature, but the Bible declares that God is good. He just is good. That is His nature. He can no more be not good than He can be not omnipotent or omniscient. It is a constitutional aspect of His being. So, how is God’s goodness to be reconciled with the tragedies that happen, such as the massacre at Virginia Tech? I could ask you how God’s goodness can be reconciled to the holocaust in World War 2, or to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities centuries before the birth of Christ. There are answers to these questions, which we will finally turn to before we go home tonight.

 

But Some APPLICATIONS and CONCLUSIONS Are In Order

 

Absent God, life is unjust. Is there any justice in the world? Did that young killer treat those students and teachers at Virginia Tech justly? Those threats he made in his video are directed to whom? Whose fault is this? He seeks to shift blame onto someone. However, whom is he referring to? However, beyond Virginia Tech, what about Darfur? Arab Muslims are slaughtering non-Arab Muslims. What sense does it make? Where is the justice? Ecclesiastes 7.20 declares, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” If there is no justice in this world, and every attempt at justice in this world has failed, then justice will only be found with God. Absent God, life is unjust.

Absent God, life is meaningless. What good is it to go to school and learn things? What good is it to work in school to teach things? In the end, it is all meaningless. Solomon was the wisest of men. He indicated that after building so many buildings, learning so many things, gratifying himself in every conceivable way, withholding from himself nothing that he wanted, the result in the end was that there was no benefit, Ecclesiastes 2.11. “No profit under the sun,” was how he stated it. So, what benefit was there for those kids to make good grades in high school and go off to university, just to get killed? There was no real benefit at all, when you think of it. As well, what possible benefit accrued from the entire student body of Virginia Tech to stand up in their stadium after the memorial service shouting, “We are Hokies!”? Do you not see that people go to great lengths to make themselves feel good, though nothing is actually accomplished that has any meaning at all apart from God?

Absent God, no one loves his neighbor as himself. All is selfishness apart from God. All is “me” apart from God. Yet there is no fulfillment, no satisfaction, no joy, no meaning, apart from God. My friend, if the biggest thing in your life is you then your life is very, very small. And, ultimately, is that not all there is without God? You see, without God there is no right and wrong. Without God there is no good and evil. Without God, there is no value in human life and existence. In the end, without God, each person becomes a user of others, a manipulator of others. God gives meaning to life. God demands the love of His creatures. God demands that His creatures love each other. In addition, the tragedy at Virginia Tech is directly attributable to at least one person not loving others as he loved himself.

Therefore, with God, and only with God, there is meaning, even if there is not understanding. I do not understand everything. I do not need to understand everything. I know that I never will understand everything. That is okay with me, so long as I am assured that there is meaning associated with the experiences of my life. The human mind is constructed in such a way that experiences must have meaning, or else the human mind fabricates meaning. How else do you explain 25,000 well-educated young people shouting at the top of their voices, “We are Hokies!”? They were trying to infuse some kind of meaning into a situation that is utterly without meaning apart from the God they refuse to recognize. A Muslim cleric, a feminist rabbi, a liberal Lutheran minister, and then President Bush. No mention of Jesus Christ, bare mention of God, and not a single Bible believing man of God right in the middle of the Bible Belt. No Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, or Baptist clergyman was represented at that school’s convocation. In other words, someone decided to completely shut out traditional, orthodox Christianity. I am telling you that without God, there is no meaning connected with what happened at that university.

My text, which I told you we would come to at the beginning of this message, is Lamentations 3.21-41. Keep in mind that these words were written in the midst of brutal suffering, terrible starvation, the complete destruction of a society, and wasting of a country, with nothing making any sense apart from God. Let me read this passage to you, while making a few comments along the way:

 

21        This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

22        It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

 

In other words, those who are alive have no reason to complain, since they, too, could easily have been overtaken by the tragic events. Only God’s mercy explains anyone’s survival.

23        They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

 

What a testimony to God in the midst of great tragedy and horror.

 

24        The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

 

When you have God with nothing else you have everything. When you have everything without God you have nothing.

25        The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.

 

On balance with eternal blessings, those who wait for Him and who seek Him always come out ahead.

 

26        It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

27        It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.

28        He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.

29        He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.

30        He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.

31        For the Lord will not cast off for ever:

32        But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.

33        For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

34        To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,

35        To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,

36        To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.

37        Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?

38        Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?

39        Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?

40        Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.

 

Always-good advice in the midst of trials and difficulties.

 

41        Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.

 

God is due our worship, our adoration, and our praise for who He is, as well as for what He has done.

 

2.   Only with God is there meaning in the midst of every circumstance of life, even if you do not understand what that meaning is.



[1] John Adams, “Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,” December 1770, US diplomat & politician (1735 - 1826)

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