First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, tomorrow will have a service in a nearby community center, after a gunman last Sunday sadly ended the earthly lives of reportedly half the congregation and damaged its building probably beyond repair. We can and should pray for all those affected and repent of our own sin (see Luke 13:1-5, which mentions others killed performing sacred actions). We also should have no illusions about what the law can do to prevent any such incidents in the future.
The incident last Sunday apparently was not primarily about religion but one man’s grudge against his wife’s family. Under existing gun laws, his record should have kept him from legally obtaining the weapon he used, but sinful human beings like the rest of us seem to have failed to give that information to the relevant authorities. Any additional gun laws would be subject to the same potential human failure, even as those who want to perpetrate such violence would still be able to acquire weapons illegally or find other methods of wreaking their havoc.
To be sure, we all are equally sinful by nature, and all sins equally warrant death now in time and eternal torment in hell. Laws certainly are capable of curbing some evil (1 Timothy 1:9) and showing us our sin (Romans 3:20), but no amount of even God’s law can change who any of us are by nature. Only God’s Gospel of the forgiveness of sins by grace for the sake of the God-man Jesus Christ crucified on the cross for us can transform us (Romans 1:16), but even that transformation is, in our earthly lives, imperfect and incomplete.
Although the pastor of the Sutherland Springs church reportedly did not want the man there already before the shooting, under normal circumstances the Church does not turn any sinners away but welcomes them and proclaims law and Gospel to them, so that God can work through His Word and Sacraments. People can and do reject God’s transformative means of grace (Matthew 23:37), but that is on them, not on God. Lord, have mercy!
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.