What do you say on yet another morning after yet another horrible massacre? Despair seems appropriate when it seems like we can’t put the actual safety of children in a place of worship ahead of a socially constructed “right” to fight against the theoretical threat of autocracy. Rage might also come up, an uncontrollable anger towards politicians who appear to be bought and sold by an industry bent on distributing instruments of death. Many of us cry out in lament for what has happened, what we have done, and what we have failed to do. We ask God how long this has to continue.
Prayers are a tricky thing. I put a lot of stock in them, but I don’t think they are magic. Prayers can make us aware of the presence of God in ways that allow us to walk in ways of justice and peace that we may not have thought possible. Prayers can also help us simply live through the unimaginable. Losing a child, a spouse, a parent, or a friend in a hail of bullets is unimaginable. Having to take a life in order to stop that hail of bullets is unimaginable too.
When we say, “a good guy with a gun,” we are talking about someone who can’t imagine using that firearm to kill. And we ask them to kill. We ask a regular person like you and me to do what we are not willing to ask of politicians, gun manufacturers, or the NRA. The person who shot Devin Patrick Kelley did not wake up on a Sunday morning thinking that he would aim to kill that day. Christian theology has worked for centuries to understand how force might be used to protect the defenseless. We come up with theories about “just war” and “Christian realism” to frame our understanding of how Christians might exercise power. Still, the experience of soldiers returning from even the most obviously justified war seems to indicate that they do so with a certain amount of moral injury, the knowledge that they had to do horrible things to survive.
We ask them to do these horrible things. We ask firefighters and policemen to do difficult things. Whether or not these or any people can be truly prepared for what they face, at least first responders do know that they are going to be faced with terrible decisions. I’m not sure the same can be said for the man who shot Devin Patrick Kelley. He did a brave and difficult thing, and his life will be forever changed. In addition to praying for the victims in Sutherland Springs, their families, and our country, we should save a few for this man too. He only did what we asked him to, at great risk to his soul.