Denison Forum – Gunman kills ten after Lunar New Year celebration: A reflection on tragedy and hope

The Lunar New Year has begun. Celebrated by Asian cultures around the world, the holiday marks the first new moon of the year and continues for around fifteen days until the first full moon of the year. As National Geographic reports, the holiday focuses on themes of reunion and hope and is “a time for family reunions, plenty of food, and some very loud celebrations.”

It was therefore especially horrific that a gunman killed ten people and wounded ten others at a California ballroom dance club Saturday night following a Lunar New Year celebration. Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna identified the shooter as seventy-two-year-old Huu Can Tran and said he took his own life last night in a van after law enforcement surrounded the vehicle in a parking lot.

Authorities are still searching for a motive at this writing.

“Man is the noblest of all animals”

Aristotle noted, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

Tragedies like this should convince us all that we need God, for at least four reasons:

  1. Clearly, human laws are not enough to restrain human evil—we need a transforming power beyond ourselves.
  2. When we lose someone we love, we seek help and hope we cannot produce or give.
  3. The fact that human lives can be taken by other humans demonstrates our finitude and mortality.
  4. The suddenness of such a tragedy illustrates the fact that tomorrow is promised to no one and that eternity is one day closer than ever.

These facts combine, we would think, to lead secular people to reconsider their secularity. And they often do, at least when the tragedy is fresh. Churches were crowded after 9/11. People, no matter their religiosity, often cry out to God in moments of distress. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes.

But over time, the pain and shock fade and we return to the “real” world in which religion is outdated and irrelevant.

Why is this?

Building a house of sand

Oswald Chambers observed, “Troubles nearly always make us look to God; his blessings are apt to make us look elsewhere.” It is a fact that the more prosperous a society becomes, the more irreligious it becomes.

The peril of prosperity conspires with the lure of self-reliance. If we think we achieved what we have, we will think we can continue to achieve what we need.

From Socrates’ dictum to “know thyself” to the present, Western society has been built on the individual. Our foundational premise is that we can discover truth and improve the world if we will only try hard enough for long enough.

God or the gods can certainly help, or so the Greeks and Romans thought. Thus they built altars to their various deities and engaged in transactional religion whereby they gave the god what it wanted so the god would give them what they wanted. We do the same when we go to church on Sunday so God will bless us on Monday.

However, secular Americans now “know” that all gods are myths. As Richard Dawkins notes in The God Delusion, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

So, when tragedy strikes, after we move past our initial religious reaction, we soon begin seeking human solutions. President Bill Clinton captured our cultural ethos when he declared in his 1993 inaugural address, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” When a shooting tragedy strikes, we turn to debates about gun laws. When natural disasters strike, we debate climate change.

Then the next wave hits and our house of sand is washed away. But before long, we start building it again.

“What’s wrong with the world today?”

As you and I know, the only One who can transform a sinful human heart is Jesus: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Why, then, don’t more people learn from tragedy to turn to him?

The problem with Christianity is Christians.

The Times of London is said to have posed this question in the early 1900s to several prominent authors: “What’s wrong with the world today?” The well-known author G. K. Chesterton reportedly responded with a one sentence-essay:

Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours, G. K. Chesterton.

I could say the same. I cannot persuade secular people that Jesus can change their lives until he first changes me. Just as we will not believe an obese diet “expert” or a dentist with bad teeth, why would non-Christians want Christ if Christians are no different than anyone else?

Here’s the good news: when the living Lord Jesus transforms us, others will see the difference. If we are loving toward those who do not love us; if we are calm in the storm, courageous in the crisis, moral in an immoral age, others will see our light in the dark (Matthew 5:16). And they will be drawn to the One who is “the light of men” (John 1:4).

This is why, as Oswald Chambers noted, “The one thing for which we are all being disciplined is to know that God is real.” He is not just the subject of the sermon you heard yesterday or the article you are reading now, but he is alive, powerful, and transforming.

No one can truly experience the God of the universe in faith, prayer, Scripture, and worship and stay the same.

Has Jesus changed your life yet today?

Denison Forum

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