The unspeakable tragedy that befell the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday morning has not only broken the collective heart of church-going America. It has caused every church-going American to wonder if it could happen to us, too.
"All I heard was bullets flying everywhere," 73 year old Farida Brown testified, according to the Wall Street Journal. She and a friend, sitting on the last pew near the door, instinctively dropped to the floor when the staccato shooting began even before the black-clad gunman entered the sanctuary. "By the time Devin Patrick Kelley stopped shooting, most of the congregation would be dead or wounded. He killed 26 people and injured 20 more. Counted among the dead is the unborn child of Crystal Holcombe, who was also killed along with 7 family members, including her husband and children" (www.wsj.com/articles/a-survivors-account-from-inside-the-texas-church-as-bullets-rained-1510101060). Our hearts break.
Will this ever end, this accelerating mayhem that has become the daily fare of our world wide web news?
Over a century ago the American writer and spiritual leader Ellen White observed: "We are living in the midst of an 'epidemic of crime' at which thoughtful, God-fearing men everywhere stand aghast. The corruption that prevails is beyond the power of the human pen to describe. Every day brings fresh revelations of political strife, bribery, and fraud; every day brings its heartsickening record of violence and lawlessness, of indifference to human suffering; of brutal, fiendish destruction of human life. Every day testifies to the increase of insanity, murder, and suicide" (Testimonies to the Church 9:89).
" . . . beyond the power of the human pen to describe . . ." How tragically true.
And yet the rest of us awakened to the early morning glory of a silver midnight frost draped across our maples—miniature sparkles of ice just weighty enough to break loose leaves dying in yellows and reds, striking the ground below with tiny metallic thuds of protest. Death to be sure. But here at least even in death there still is beauty. This is not Texas.
But this is Earth. And across its pock-marked face the saga of human suffering and death spreads at rates and in degrees that startle even the most calloused observers.
Does the church, do the people and friends of God notice? If a century ago warranted a warning of inexplicable acceleration of epidemic crime and insane killing, what would that writer now say? What Jesus once said was even plainer, "'Even so, when you see these things happening, you know the kingdom of God is near'" (Luke 21:31).
How near? Near enough for the church of God to arouse from her lethargic slumber? Near enough for the young and the not-so-young of Adventism to turn aside for a day or two from the distractive noise and hypnotic clutch of our technological toys? Near enough for God's people to band together in prayer?
How about seven days of prayer, seven days and nights for opening our minds, our souls to the supreme God of the universe, the Savior of the world? Seven days and nights for praying the cry of the Damascus Road Saul to the Stranger in the blinding light, "'What am I to do, Lord?'" (Acts 22:10). (See the accompanying thematic guide for 7 Days of Prayer.)
Surely our God is earnest enough, creative enough, personal enough to answer the sincere petition, "What do You want me to do?" If it is racial reconciliation He calls us to pursue, surely He will show us how . . . right here . . . won’t He? If it is missionary zeal He hopes we will embrace, surely He will grant such fervor to our honest petitions, won't He? If it is His overcoming power He urges us to seek, surely He will grant to us the very victory power we long for, will He not?
Then let us ask in this time of diminishing time. Let us ask and receive, seek and find, knock and it will be opened to us—as Jesus urged us: ". . . how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who [Greek: daily/continually] ask Him!" (Luke 11:13). Because if the Holy Spirit is "the greatest of all gifts," then isn’t this the most urgent of all times to be daily seeking His fresh baptism of love and power and witness?