The inevitable questions have already started. What would motivate someone to commit such horrendous atrocities? Would stricter gun control laws make a difference? Do we need greater security at our schools and other institutions? Why did school officials not warn the university community following the shootings that occurred some two hours before the mass killing occurred? Those are all good questions and there will be time to discuss them. Hopefully those discussions will lead to some helpful conclusions and to some constructive solutions.
While I know nothing about the man who killed over thirty people at Virginia Tech University yesterday, it seems safe to say that he was beset by a tremendous amount of rage. Perhaps we will soon have some idea of what particular event or events sent him over the edge to the place where he destroyed so many others before destroying himself. Perhaps we will never know. Again, though, to kill so many people in such a pre-meditated and determined fashion seems to indicate that the shooter was filled with a rage so intense that we could fairly call it demonic.
I’ve noticed a lot of rage in our modern American society. People get tremendously angry over any perceived slight or over any perceived violation of their “space” or of their “rights.” They are far too quick to say a challenging word or to make an obscene gesture. Rage may be one of the factors that contribute to the crudity of language that people customarily use to express their negative feelings. I hear people address other people as if the targets of their words are far less than human; they clearly feel disdain for their fellows but I suspect their words are also fueled by rage.
From where does such rage come? From sin, certainly, but perhaps we can be more precise. One of the aspects of sin is alienation—alienation from God, from self, and from others. There really is a tremendous sense of lostness in our society. We are more adrift from the relationships that provide us with moorings than most of us realize. Such sin and alienation can produce all kinds of negative reactions and harmful actions. Obviously, few people will ever act out on the scale that we have seen at Virginia Tech, but many people still perpetrate very hurtful words and actions on others because of the rage they feel that results from alienation.
For now, though, we really need to focus on another human emotion: compassion. Our hearts go out the Virginia Tech community. We are weighed down with sorrow over what the family members and friends of those who were slain and wounded are experiencing. We are reminded of the vulnerability of our own family member and friends and of our own vulnerability. Those who were killed were just doing what they were supposed to be doing; they were present where they were supposed to be present. There is little or no protection against the random and the insane. Such events remind us of how tenuous life is for all of us.
So, let’s work on developing more compassion. Let’s work on replacing our rage with understanding by living in loving relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others. When all is said and done, we’re all in this together. So let’s be kind to each other.