Once again, an act of terrible violence and evil has occurred. An unhinged Muslim man, motivated by a cocktail of false beliefs about God, hatred of LGBT people, and who knows how much personal brokenness, has injured or killed 100 people in Orlando. Sadly, it took approximately .0025 seconds for our political impulses to get the better of us and for everyone to take sides. As a pastor — heck, as a human — this was so grievous to me that I had to turn off the social media streams for a day just to get a little perspective. I think I've gotten some, and I'd like to share it with you.
Why Is This Wrong?
Why is this act wrong? Well, first let's figure out what aren't the reasons:
- Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because the victims were Americans.
- Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because the victims were gay.
- Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because the shooter was Muslim.
- Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because of guns.
Hear me clearly: Killing or injuring 100 people is wrong because the victims are people — they bear the image of God. Snuffing it out the image of God is always always always always wrong.
It's wrong to kill gay people, Muslim people, gun-owning people, unborn people, American people, conservative people, black people, poor people, the mentally infirm people — because it's wrong to kill people.
Do we have work to do with the way we love our LGBT neighbors? Absolutely. Do we have work to do with Muslim community? Absolutely. Do we have work to do with our gun laws? Absolutely. But this act was not wrong for any of those reasons — at least not primarily. And when any of us take a tragedy of this magnitude and make it about an issue (and isn't it fascinating that it's always about our pet issue) we ignore the importance of the image of God for the sake of an issue. That is wrong.
Don't Elevate Issues Over the Image
Now, let me go one step further: Using a tragedy as a fulcrum to gain leverage for your position is the worst kind of power mongering. It's literally the attempt to write law in the blood of victims about whom you care less than you do your issue. Their blood cries out to us from the streets of Orlando to remember that they are more than an issue. They are precious, image-bearing, God-made people. All of them. They are dead. That is wrong, and that reason is sufficient.
Some of you reading this will say, "Yeah, but our nation has really strange gun laws, those need to be dealt with." Others will say, "Yeah, but LGBT people have been systematically ignored or hurt by us for too long." Others will say, "Yeah, but we've got a big problem with radical Islam." And let me be give a big yes to all these related issues. Much is the work to do. But, that's my point exactly: these are related issues. By definition, therefore, they are not central. One issue is central: God's image was wiped off the earth 50 times over, and none of us seem to be more grieved by that fact than we are about issues.
The Image of God Unites Us.
This one issue which should unite us in our grief is the same issue which unites us in our humanity. We are image-bearers. But it does more still. It unites us in our hope.
Remembering that we are God's image bearers will quickly call one final reality to mind: The image has been marred. Twisted and bent, the image of God within us has a condition wrapped around it like a python around its prey — a condition called sin. Only one image-bearer has ever crushed the head of this ravenous snake. When tragedy comes, the people of God must resist the temptation to wriggle out of this serpent's grip by ranting and raving about issues, no matter how legitimate they may seem. The time will come for issues. First, we must be among those who look to the one who has vanquished this foe, and plead with him for the grace to help us do the same. If we did, we may just start to see His image in others again — even those with whom we disagree about the issues.