Reflections on San Bernardino December 11 2015
The transportation agency for which I work was having its monthly board meeting as word started to come out that there was an active shooter at a location about three miles from our office. Our board members consist of 29 elected representatives across San Bernardino County. There was a lot of looking at text messages, whispering, and some members getting up to leave. Moments later the meeting was abruptly concluded, and the announcement was made that the incident was ongoing. Because the shooters had apparently escaped, we were put on lock down and sent home shortly thereafter.
A lot more has become known since then about this evil act impacting many lives in this city and the surrounding area. Our agency had worked with several of the county employees that had been killed or injured. My secretary from several years ago lost her son-in-law. So her daughter, a stay-at-home mom, needs to determine what comes next for her and her six children. She will have a lot of help, and the community has banded together, as most communities do with tragedies like this. But life will change, for sure.
San Bernardino is blessed to have a strong community of churches and believers. You could see some of the prayer circles in the news reports. But the attacks also bring up many questions. What do we do with “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you”? (Matthew 5:44) How do we handle forgiveness vs. seeing that justice is served? How do we deal with violence like this inspired by terrorist groups? How do we respond as a country vs. how do we respond as individuals?
What we do as a country is the harder of the two questions, and we won’t go into that here. Suffice it to say that “rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil … for it does not bear the sword for nothing.” (Romans 13:3,4) In other words, governments are to be in the business of restraining evil and delivering justice, under the authority of God. We should support the government in that task.
Our response as individual believers is what we need to focus on, as we are to follow both Jesus’ instruction and His example. Jesus made clear that we have the responsibility to “love God and our neighbor.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Jesus was the perfect demonstration of that love: “since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (I Peter 2:21)
It is interesting that the statement about following Jesus’ example is in the very context of the most unfair, heinous act of violence ever inflicted – Jesus’ crucifixion. In response, He did not revile in return, He did not threaten, but did this so that we as sinful, wayward human beings could “die to sin and live to righteousness.” (verse 24) It was not that we deserved forgiveness; it was that He demonstrated in the most powerful way God’s love and mercy.
It is hard for us to accept this lesson as an example for how to respond to what happened on December 2. It is hard for me to write this, knowing what just happened right here in San Bernardino. But it also reminds me that Jesus’ kind of love and forgiveness is radical and does not even seem logical in today’s world.
What we do with this must be individually determined before God. Here in San Bernardino this may mean comforting the ones affected, helping with finances and other family needs. It means forgiving others, while also recognizing that justice needs to be served.
Forgiveness does not mean all consequences are forgotten. We need to focus on blessing others, which means to do what is good for them. As forgiving believers, we need to remember that as part of loving even the perpetrators of terrorism, we need to help them understand that it is not good for them to do evil or encourage others to do the same. They must face the consequences of what they have done, and the earthly consequences should be consistent with the heinous nature of the act.
Our forgiveness of others also involves prayerfully considering how we can respond to our acquaintances of Middle Eastern origin. Perhaps our prayer should be that God uses the rise in terror attacks to help the Muslim world see its desperate need for Christ. You and I never know when we might be the ones the Holy Spirit uses to help an Arabic international student, co-worker, neighbor, or friend respond to the love of Christ. None of us has all the answers right now, but may we be looking for opportunities to demonstrate God’s love in ways that reflect the love Christ demonstrated to us.
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