This has been a strange week of horrific tragedies in Orlando, Florida. As if to confirm the superstition that “bad things happen in threes,” first there was the senseless murder of Christian singer, Christina Grimmie, by a deranged stalker fan. No sooner had that news hit the airwaves when news arrived of an ISIS-affirming fanatic taking an assault rifle into a gay bar and killing 50 people in the worst mass shooting in American history. And then, Tuesday night (6/14), a bizarre tragedy struck a family on vacation at Disney World; out for movie night near a man-made lagoon, an alligator snatched and drowned their two-year-old boy; his body was just recovered, found 15-yards from the original attack.
It is ironic that these events all happened at the very place where millions of dollars and scores of advertising specialists have been employed to brand it as “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Should this irony sober us? Sure. The wisdom of Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount is made all the more poignant when we ponder the contrast between the artificial superficiality of Disney “happiness” with the cold, cruel reality that has erupted in its midst from just beneath the surface: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
We are wise, though, to not take a “Christian lesson” much beyond that. In other places, Jesus makes clear that it is foolish for any of us to think we are too smart, too righteous, or too special to be victimized by senseless tragedy (Luke 13:1-5). Unfortunately, in a day of instant global communication, we all are exposed to the moronic blaming of the victims that some people engage in when any tragedy strikes. Incredibly, in the wake of the alligator attack that took the life of the toddler, there are people whose first instinct is to chide the parents. Likewise, there are idiots whose first instinct is to question whether Christina Grimmie should have been so accessible to her fans. We surely can see the cruel stupidity of such thoughts, and the oblivious cluelessness of anyone voicing such thoughts publicly.
Are victims from a gay bar a different category of victimhood?
May I suggest that the place to go for sorting through any “mixed feelings” on this may be Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15)? The prodigal engaged in salacious activity when he wandered from home for sure. Had he been murdered during the time of his “wild living,” he would have not thereby been made more virtuous for his being a murder victim. (That may be worth mentioning, as some want to politicize this tragedy in the direction of confirming the righteousness of same-sex relationships; that, too, only adds confusion to the matter.) On the other hand, Jesus clearly demonstrates what the Christian attitude should be – what the attitude of God the Father is – towards the wandering prodigal: it is to hope and wish and pray for his safety and hope and wish and yearn and look for his coming home, safe and sound and in one piece.
It is the older brother in Jesus’ parable who gloats at the prodigal’s misfortune and who looks for the prodigal “to get what he has coming to him” and thinks other such . . . well, unchristian thoughts. And let us not miss the point of Luke 15: it is rebuke of the older brother’s attitude (which was the attitude of the Pharisees toward “sinners beneath them” at the time) that is the point of the parables of Luke 15.
In the three tragedies in Orlando this past week, what is the proper Christian response? Grief. Compassion. Mourning. Kindness. Extension of love, condolences, and comfort.
And, to tell the truth: I am not sure one has to be a missional Christian to recognize that basic Christian principle.
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