Gary Montez Martin went into his local Circle K convenience store to buy a few cigars last Friday. He did this almost every day. Store clerks said he seemed fine. Hours later, he learned he had been fired from his job and allegedly shot five co-workers to death.
We’re now learning more about his victims.
One was Josh Pinkard, who sent his wife this text: “I love you, I’ve been shot at work.” He did not survive, leaving his wife and three children. Vicente Juarez was a father of three and grandfather of eight. Russell Beyer had a daughter and a son and would have turned forty-eight this Thursday. Clayton Parks left his wife and a young son.
And Trevor Wehner was a student at Northern Illinois University who began as an intern that day. He was scheduled to graduate in May.
The company is determining if anything can be done in the future “to ensure this horrible incident is never repeated.”
“Pessimism is a mark of superior intellect”
Whether the issue is crime and violence, disasters, or disease, when we look at the future through the prism of the present, it’s easy to abandon hope.
Socrates taught us that the key to knowledge is to “know thyself.” From then to now, Western civilization has focused on the individual. Our existentialist worldview limits our experience to ourselves. Jean-Paul Sartre claimed that “man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”
As a result, we cannot believe in a future we cannot see in the present. That’s why Nietzsche could say, “Regarding life, the wisest men of all ages have judged alike: it is worthless.” Economist John Kenneth Galbraith: “We all agree that pessimism is a mark of superior intellect.”
Cyrano de Bergerac claimed that “a pessimist is a man who tells the truth prematurely.” Actually, the opposite is true: a pessimist is a man who decides the truth prematurely. As Robert Schuller noted, “Pessimism drops the curtain on tomorrow.”
“The famine was severe in the land”
I’ve been studying the biblical story of Joseph lately. In Genesis 43, we learn that “the famine was severe in the land” (v. 1). This was the seven-year famine Joseph predicted years earlier. To prepare for it, Pharaoh elevated him to second-in-charge of the nation.
Those suffering from the famine had no way to know that God was using this disaster for a larger redemptive purpose. They could not know that the famine would lead Joseph’s family to join him in Egypt, where they would be saved. They could not know that Joseph’s family would establish the nation from which the Messiah of the world would one day come.
All the world knew was that “the famine was severe in the land.”
To whom will the world “belong tomorrow”?
Much of what God is doing to redeem tragedy is not apparent at the time. Think of the forty years Moses spent in the desert before he led his people out of Egyptian slavery. Remember the forty years they spent in the wilderness until a new generation was ready to enter their Promised Land.
Think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they were condemned to the fiery furnace. Or Daniel as he was thrown into the lions’ den. Or Peter in prison the night before he was to be executed by Herod. Or Paul in a Philippian jail. Or John exiled on Patmos.
None of them could know when and how their suffering would be redeemed by God’s providential omnipotence. When we’re in the darkness of night, we cannot see the brightness of day.
If “the world will belong tomorrow to those who brought it the greatest hope” (Teilhard de Chardin), how can we offer our culture a realistic path to hope for the future? How can we find such hope for our souls?
One: Expect God to do what is best.
Frederick Buechner once met an Episcopal laywoman who had a ministry of faith healing. Here was the essence of her message: “You had to expect. You had to believe. . . . It was faith that unbound the hands of Jesus so that through your prayers his power could flow and miracles could happen, healing could happen, because where faith was, healing always was too, she said, and there was no power on earth that could prevent it.
“Inside us all, she said, there was a voice of doubt and disbelief which sought to drown out our prayers even as we were praying them, but we were to pray down that voice for all we were worth because it was simply the product in us of old hurts, griefs, failures, of all that the world had done to try to destroy our faith.”
Is that voice speaking to you this morning?
Two: Trust that the present will be used for a redemptive future.
Oswald Chambers: “At times God puts us through the discipline of darkness to teach us to heed Him. Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, and we are put into the shadow of God’s hand until we learn to hear Him.”
Chambers also notes that “God does not give us overcoming life; He gives us life as we overcome” (his italics). He adds: “If we will do the overcoming, we shall find we are inspired of God because He gives life immediately.”
What do you need to overcome today?
Three: Offer someone hope for the future in the present.
Henri Nouwen: “The fragmentation of humanity and its agony grow from the false supposition that all human beings have to fight for their right to be appreciated and loved.” This “false supposition” seems to make the news daily.
If you and I offer someone the appreciation and love of God’s inclusive grace, how much hope will we infuse into their soul? And ours?