Editor’s note: Gary Ledbetter is editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, the newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In this column, he reflects on the Nov. 5 shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5, HCSB).
John’s prologue in the Gospels is my favorite Christmas passage, showing us in theological outline what happened in Bethlehem’s stable. We know that Jesus is “the Word,” the light that shines in the darkness. With somber joy we read that “the darkness did not overcome it.”
I thought of that passage as I’ve considered the darkness manifested at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs Nov. 5.
As I write this, pundits are talking in the background about causes and solutions—“coming together” as a nation, gun laws, and our culture of violence. In due respect to those wiser than I, there is no solution by means of inspiration or policy. The darkness hates the light; the darkness hates life; the darkness really hates churches that celebrate the risen Savior. That is not new. And it will not change.
Yet we grieve. My heart lurches within me at the grief of a pastor and his wife who lost their precious daughter to the darkness or the grandparents who lost their pregnant daughter and never met their unborn grandchild. I try to imagine the picture of an entire congregation shot down—wounded or killed. It’s just too horrible. I think of the grief the entire congregation will experience for years, even decades, as a result of this day.
But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our pain is not without consolation, or without end. These brothers and sisters had gathered on the first day of the week because our Savior rose, victorious over death.
The apostle Paul calls death “the sting of sin.” Sin is another word for the darkness, the root cause of the darkness. Even so, the darkness cannot overcome the life that is the light of men. The believers killed on Nov. 5 were at church because they were expressing a heavenly hope that death is defeated by resurrection. Jesus is the proof and the first fruits of those who would rise after him.
That’s you and me, because we will die. This church has sung songs about their hope in Jesus and heard sermons about their hope of eternal life in Christ. They are joined with you and me because we believe what they believe, celebrate what they celebrate, and look to the same God for comfort and consolation as the darkness closes in around us. We grieve, but only for a time, and not out of despair.
I don’t gainsay the work of those who try to keep us safer. Policies and protocols help hold the darkness back in some limited ways. Paul calls those who serve our communities in these ways servants of God for good. It’s important work and a great benefit to God’s people.
But these magistrates are servants of the light, whether they know it or not; they are not that light. Human, political answers have the same expiration date as this world—sooner every minute. Those who look to laws or psychology or even first responders for answers to the darkness are not looking to the source of true hope.
Thousands grieve the losses of Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas, and New York, and Nice, and London. And many will try to respond in ways that provide real comfort and healing to those who are most personally affected.
Implicit, and very explicit, in our comfort, however, is that promise that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us so that where he is, we may be also. It’s a place where there is no darkness, no grief, no sin. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.