My Besetting Sin: A Reflection on Mass Shootings

This past weekend, I came face-to-face with one of my besetting sins. “Besetting sins,” as […]

Eric Dorman / 8.7.19

This past weekend, I came face-to-face with one of my besetting sins. “Besetting sins,” as in, the sins that serve as particular nuisances to my body and spirit. Everyone has at least one, I think. Of course, we all have all of them. It’s just that we’re usually prone to one or two above the others. Some of us to gluttony, some to sloth, others to lust, some to love of money, others to pride, and so on.

I’ve indulged each of those from time to time, no question. But there’s one that I’ve not thought about much in my life, and as I said, I realized this past weekend what it is.

On Saturday, in El Paso, a white nationalist perpetrated a terrorist attack against his fellow Americans at a Wal-Mart, killing 22 and injuring more than two dozen. The next morning — the Lord’s Day — in Dayton another man opened fire on innocent people who were out having a good time, killing nine — including his own sister — and injuring, also, more than two dozen. In Gilroy, California, a few days earlier, a gunman indiscriminately cut down festival-goers, killing three people, including two children, and injuring a dozen more.

In the wake of these kinds of hideous evils, the debate about guns flares up and Americans hash out their positions and convictions on television, online, at dinner tables, in text messages and comments sections, in formal debates, informal discussions, and heated arguments. We also — hopefully — take a moment to pray and reflect on the fact that it could have been us gunned down in the middle of a mundane afternoon or a garlic festival or a night at the pub. It could have been our child, our spouse, our lover, our colleague, our parent, our friend. We’re all one bullet away from the last of it, and that’s not an easy thought to entertain.

I was at brunch on Sunday and, as I was eating, I saw two early-twenties white guys with backpacks, ball-caps and sunglasses walk toward the back of the restaurant and into the bathroom. My wife’s voice faded into the background as I envisioned what they might have been doing in there. Unzipping their backpacks, pulling out a few guns, locking, loading, getting their wits about them. I was halfway convinced that they would emerge seconds later, weapons in hand, and that we were too far from an exit to escape in time, and too far from the bathroom to tackle them (I was also wondering whether I’d have the courage).

Thinking back on it, I’m sure they just popped into the restaurant to get out of the pouring rain, use the restroom, and then get back to their hike in a nearby park or whatever. But that’s what these events do: they make us distrust each other, and they turn everyday routines into fear-inducing moments. That’s what terrorism is about.

I want to live in a world where there’s virtually no risk of being gunned down over Sunday brunch, because people care about each other and pay attention to each other and bear one another’s burdens.

But it doesn’t matter what world we want. We have the one we have. It’s unpleasant, the fact that I can’t go to a movie theater or Wal-Mart or restaurant or church or mosque or synagogue without checking the exits, keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior, and considering that it might be the last place I ever go, the last meal I ever eat, the last movie I ever see, the last groceries I ever buy, the last prayer I ever offer. But that’s reality.

And I’m angry about it. More angry than I’ve been in a long time. Angry that these shooters have murdered so many innocent people. Angry that we seem to hate each other enough to blame each other when these shootings happen. Angry that if I someday, Lord willing, have children, I’ll have to worry while they’re at school — not because one of their classmates might bully them, but because one of their classmates might shoot and kill them. I’m angry that so many parents worry about this already, and angry that others don’t have to imagine losing a child this way, because they already have.

I’m angry that some people have the audacity to pray for the monsters who carry out these demonic plans. And angry that God hasn’t put an end to all this shit.

So, back to the besetting sin. All that anger reveals it. It’s vengeance. I don’t just want healing. I don’t just want solutions. I want blood. I want each of these shooters to suffer for what they’ve done. I hope the crushing knowledge of their own mortality sets in and they bear the weight of their wickedness until they’re dead. And if they’re dead already, I hope they’re met with a justice so severe that it multiplies every bit of suffering they’ve caused a thousandfold.

I mean all that. I really do. And I’m not asking forgiveness for it yet. I don’t want forgiveness for it, either. All I can say is that, maybe somewhere in this vengeance-soaked heart of mine, I want to want the forgiveness.

But the thing is, in Christ, that forgiveness is already given, regardless of my wants. Jesus absorbed my vengeance on the cross, for me. All of my besetting sin — sin that swung the hammer that drove the nails that hung the Lord — is gone from the memory of God, once and forever. Evil did not and will not have the last word.

That’s sometimes cold comfort, as glorious as it is, because people still die in the streets and in their schools and homes and workplaces and supermarkets and houses of worship. But until the foggy glass clears and we finally see in full, maybe it’s enough to say that Jesus died for me, and for you.


Featured image: Gaurav Pikale on Unsplash


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