This past Sunday I woke up, got dressed, and went to church. I don’t usually engage in social or news media on Sunday mornings because time is short, and I’m usually focused on the tasks at hand for the upcoming Sunday School hour and worship service. Therefore, it wasn’t until I sat down for lunch on Sunday afternoon that I first learned about the deplorable and wicked mass murder that took place in Orlando, Florida. I am devastated by the loss of life, and my prayers and sympathy go out to the victims and their families.
The text for our service yesterday was Psalm 28. Had I known about the shooting prior to the sermon, I probably would have adapted it to address the situation, as Psalm 28 has much to say about tragedies and acts of violence and injustice, and how we as Christians should respond to such events. In the coming days (and indeed, already), the world will banter about political and social talking points. Individuals and groups of people will be blamed. Policy will be debated. And armchair social commentators will plaster social media sites with one-liner memes in attempts to explain the who, what, when, where, and why of this horrible event. The fact is, however, that we simply live in a fallen world populated by sinners where bad things happen, sometimes by intent, and sometimes just naturally. Thankfully, the Bible helps us to make sense of these times. What follows is a brief reflection at how Psalm 28 can direct our thinking about the mass murder in Orlando.
1. We are all sinners.
The world is full of sinful people: you, me, your neighbor, your pastor, your grandma. We are all born into sin, and as a result, we do wicked things, and we are effected by people who do wicked things. This was true of David in Psalm 28: people were threatening him to the extent that his very life was in danger (Ps. 28.1). Wicked people do wicked things, and this effects all of us. This was true for David, and it is true for us. This was true of the man who killed 50 people in Orlando and injured dozens more. He did what he did because he is a sinner. And lest we think ourselves any better than he, even David, the author of Psalm 28 knew that he deserved to be “dragged off with the wicked” (Ps. 28.3).
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3.10-18
This is the boat we are all in: sin and depravity. And because we all suffer from this disease, our world is a dangerous place where violent things happen and people do despicable things to one another.
2. Judgment is coming.
Psalm 28 also tells us that because we are sinful, judgment is coming: “Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward” (Ps. 28.4).
There is a judgment coming in which God will give all people the reward of their deeds. Those of us who have never committed a mass murder tend to look upon those who have with scorn and contempt, being swift to call down judgment upon them, as well we should. But this attitude is shortsighted in that it forgets that we also are guilty of sin. Although you may have never killed anyone physically, you have committed murder of the mind. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” While you may have never physically “pulled the trigger” against another human being out of hatred, the landscape of your mind is littered with bodies. For these sins, judgment in coming, in which God will “give to them according to the work of their hands [and minds];” and he will “render them their due reward” (verse 4).
As my friend and colleague David Wick has said regarding the Orlando shooting, “I…have to answer to Him, and that is my legitimate concern – my accountability to Him. And may God have mercy on my soul.” We are all in the same boat: sinners who live in a sinful world, and judgment is coming.
3. God will hear the voice of our pleas for mercy.
In spite of the fact that we have all transgressed and committed horrible acts of treachery and sin in our lives (again, if not physically, then mentally), Psalm 28 tells us of a wonderful miracle: God will hear the voice of our pleas for mercy. “Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy” (verse 6).
Why is it such a miracle that God hears our prayers and cries for mercy? Precisely because of what I’ve already described in points 1 and 2: we are sinners who deserve judgment. But instead of giving us the judgment we so richly deserve for our sin, God has chosen to offer us atonement and full forgiveness for our sin. He sent Jesus Christ into the world to live perfectly and then die on the cross, taking the full weight of the sin of all those who would trust in him. So then, instead of us receiving judgment for our sin, he receives in on our behalf. He pays the penalty for our sins; he receives the punishment, so now those who are trusting in Christ stand before God as innocent. They no longer have to fear judgment, because judgment has already been given to Christ. And now, instead of God being our judge, jury, and executioner, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped…” Now God is “my rock” and he will “be not deaf to me” (verse 1).
The fact that God hears the voice of the pleas for mercy of people who are utterly lost in sin and wickedness is nothing short of a cosmic miracle. It is in this sense that in the wake of immense tragedy that we can thank God for having mercy on sinners and hearing their pleas for mercy.
4. We can, and should, pray for peace. Psalm 28.9 says: “Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.” Because of what Jesus has done on behalf of all those who would trust in him, peace with God is now possible. No longer do we have to worry about impending judgment for our sin; no longer must we feel anxious about the effects of living in a fallen world populated by sinners. Instead, we have confidence that God will “hear the voice of my pleas for mercy” and that he has responded to my pleas, and he will continue to do so for all eternity.
It is in this sense that this reality should cause us to pray for the victims of the senseless killing that took place in Orlando. We should pray for their peace: physical and emotional peace in the wake of tragedy, and for their spiritual peace with God. We should pray that they come to know him and that he will hear their own pleas for mercy. God has promised that he will do so.
Additionally, this should also be our prayer for our enemies – those who have perpetrated these horrible acts of violence and those like them – and for those who will do likewise in the future. Our desire is for all people to know the peace that Christ brings – peace with God, which leads to peace among men.
May our prayer for the city of Orlando be that they would come to see the hopelessness of sin and the greatness of the Savior; may they call upon the Lord with pleas of mercy, for he will hear; may God become their strength and saving refuge.