Yesterday morning I – like many of you – popped up my Facebook stream to see tons of posts and articles about the tragic shooting that took place at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. I scrolled in shock and awe that another tragedy had taken place in a place of worship. A tragedy that was very reminiscent of what happen years ago at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX. A tragedy that leaves many asking the question – Why did God allow something like this to happen?
At first glance we could easily dismiss this to a young man who had a mental illness. We could even become champions for mental illness awareness, and some of us probably should. It’s a worthy cause to champion. Yet, at the core of this tragedy, is a greater problem – EVIL. So, we are back to the question again – Why would God allow evil like this to happen?
A few weeks ago I was preaching on a story from the book of Acts that mirrors this tragedy in many ways. It is the story of the death of Stephen found in Acts 7. In the story of Stephen we see that he is martyred for being a follower of Jesus. He was killed in a brutal mob fashion. It was gruesome and probably very difficult to watch. Yet, there are many lessons that we learn from this story that help us understand why God allows such evil in our world. Here are just a few…
- Evil shows us our sinfulness and need for God. The very last thing that Stephen says is found in Acts 7:60 – “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen was a first hand eyewitness to one of the most debase and sinful actions that a man can do. Yet, he shares a word that expresses both an awareness of the sin that was being committed against him and the sin he had committed. That’s what evil does. Evil shows us not just the sinfulness of others, but it also points to our own sinfulness and need for God. Even the evil that happened in Charleston shows us that.
- Evil shows us the beauty of the Gospel. The very last words of Stephen were those of forgiveness. How could he do that? He could only do that because of the Gospel – the message that Jesus died in our place so that our sin could be forgiven and we could be made right with God. The beauty of the Gospel is that we can forgive such acts of evil because God – through Jesus – forgave our acts of evil. Even if those acts weren’t as evil as what happened in Charleston. They are evil all the same.
- Evil shows us how important it is the stay in fellowship with God. At the moment of his death Stephen is talking with God and God is giving him a vision of heaven. I don’t know what the believers in Charleston saw as they moved on to their eternal reward, but I do know that they had gathered to pray and seek the face of God. As a result churches and believers all over the world have been in constant prayer for the folks at Emanuel AME, and we don’t need to stop. There is always evil working in the world today. Therefore, we always need to be seeking God’s face through prayer. It needs to be the norm and not the exception.
Now, I am aware that some of you who are reading this article may not be a follower of Jesus. My prayer and heart’s desire is that the evil you see in this world would not push you away from God. Instead, I pray that the evil of this tragedy would draw you to God, reveal to you your own sin and show you the beauty of the Gospel to the point where you surrender your life to Jesus.
For those who are reading this who are followers of Jesus. My desire is that this tragedy would cause you to press into God all the more. The more we know him. The more we will be able to stand in the face of evil and share the truth of the Gospel.
Also, let’s not forget those who are suffering in Charleston today. They need our prayers.