A few days ago we witnessed a horrific display of hatred and violence raging in Charlottesville, Virginia over skin color. Ethnicity.
Such disgusting displays of violence have become so common place that it can be tempting to give up and lose hope because of all the ugliness we see in the world. We live in a world where genuine abiding and unconditional love seems so intangible. So ambiguous. It’s not hard to imagine why the faith and hope of so many has grown cold.
And though some may hold high the banner of our inevitable fate proclaiming that this is just how it is supposed to be,
I will not.
I will not accept the fact that our world must continue to grow darker with each passing day.
I will stand against that darkness. I will fight back. Not with violence or weapons. But with Love. Hope. Mercy. Forgiveness.
Love is the most powerful force in the world. It can humble the hardest of hearts. It can demolish the discouraging divisions that are crippling this country. It is only love that keeps the darkness at bay.
Whenever I am tempted to despair and it seems like the darkness is winning, I remember that there is a light that still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able overcome it. Because what evil doesn’t understand is that love never fails. It blossoms, even thrives in the most hopeless circumstances. The light of love shines the brightest in the darkest of nights and in the places we would never have thought to look.
But with every hateful blow, when the dust settles, love always wins.
When I start to get weary and my own hope begins to wane, I remember 13 year-old Marian. I remember how this young woman defeated the most vicious of evil with only three words on a quiet October morning in 2006.
In was the morning of October 2, 2006. You could hear the sounds of fall harvest in the fields as Charles and his wife walked their children down to the bus stop. He kissed them and told them he loved them. It started out like any other day. But it was only a few hours later that this angry man walked into a one room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, forced 10 little girls to lie down, tied their hands and feet, and shot them one by one. Before shooting the girls, the man told them he was sorry, but that he wanted to punish God for taking his own child.
It was horrific. Brutal. On an otherwise peaceful October morning, the world witnessed an almost unimaginable act of pure evil.
But in the hours and days following this tragedy, something beautiful happened.
Something immeasurably more beautiful.
A light began to shine in that darkness. It was a light of love, grace and forgiveness illuminating a beauty without understanding.
A beauty the darkness could not comprehend.
This light with a flicker of hope, as the oldest of the five girls killed stepped forward. And with as much faith and courage as any man or woman has ever shown, thirteen-year-old Marian, stood in the gap and demonstrated the greatest love of all.
She turned to the gunman and said, “Shoot me first.”
With those three courageous words, she was declaring to the darkness that the light still shines and it can never be overcome.
This tiny, yet powerful flame ignited what would become a raging, beautiful wildfire of faith, hope and love.
Within only hours of the massacre, members of the Amish community visited the home of the killer to provide comfort and express forgiveness to his family. Within days, the Amish community, which intentionally isolates itself from the rest of the world, began to receive an outpouring of love and support from individuals, churches and businesses across the nation. Corporations and churches donated food and other supplies. Sixteen hundred people gathered for a prayer service at a local church. Organizations hosted events to raise financial support and over 3000 bikers rode together in procession 12 miles long, raising over $30,000 in support.
Local firehouses and neighbors served thousands of meals feeding more than 500 people a day with local stores contributing food and beverages for the volunteers. Amish and State police officers worked together. Amish and non-Amish women prepared and served meals together. A manufacturer of playground equipment even donated all new playground equipment for a new school house. Within months of the shooting, 4 million dollars came in from all over the world. The Amish community used some of this money to take care of the family of the man who murdered their children.
People were weeping together, giving of themselves, and joining hands to help strangers.
Now, I want to ask you.
Where was that love and sense of community the day before?
There is something about trials that brings out the best in people. There is something about impossibly hard situations that brings people together. It unites them.
Do you remember what happened after September 11th?
I can’t remember a time when the people of the United States came together in such unity and love. People were leaving their homes and driving across the country to come and help. I remember crying at the sight of hundreds of bulldozers in single file making their way into the city with men and woman voluntarily working themselves to near exhaustion.
It is in these times that we see people give of themselves unconditionally and sometimes at great cost. And isn’t that the purest definition of love?
Maybe that is why God allows pain and suffering in the world when He could stop it. Maybe it is because it brings us together like nothing else can.
And when hate and violence thinks it has dealt a deadly blow, love once again rises from the ashes in all of its glory.
It’s like trying to stomp out campfire. You can’t do it. It just spreads.
And what if, at its core, herein lies an answer to the age-old question:
Why does God allow pain and suffering in our world when he could stop it?
In John chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples were walking by a man who had been born blind. The disciples asked Jesus, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins” (John 9:2)? Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3).
What are the works of God if not love?
The Bible teaches us that God is love. So love isn’t something that God does. It isn’t simply a quality of his character. Love defines Him.
God is love.
And so in John chapter 9 Jesus seems to be saying that this man was born blind SO THAT there would be an OPPORTUNITY for a DEMONSTRATION of the LOVE of God.
In a broken and fallen world, how could we see the light, appreciate it and know what it truly means if not for the darkness? I don’t believe we could. And so, just maybe, that is why God allows pain and hurt in the world when He could stop it. Maybe it is because it brings us together like nothing else can, and when we come together and love one another we demonstrate the glory of God.
If this text is true, if sometimes bad things to happen so that the love of God might be displayed, then shouldn’t we be looking to make the most of every opportunity to show the world the glory of God by our love?
I believe that to love is why we are here and every time fail to notice or serve someone in need we have missed out on a God ordained opportunity to display the love of God.
If you don’t give that kind word of encouragement to the server whom you can tell is exhausted and beaten down by unreasonable customers, then who will?
If I don’t see Jesus in the man with a cardboard sign on the street corner and don’t help him, then who will?
It is now for the joy of the treasure we have found in Jesus that we cannot help but love others. And although we may only see in part now, as in a dimly lit mirror, every act of love in the name of Jesus is proof that the spirit of God still live and moves among us.
It is a glimmer of hope.
It is proof that the light still shines and the darkness has not overcome it.
It is a reminder that
We love because He first loved us
(1 John 4:19)
Let us follow the example of Jesus, the God who became a man. The God who entered His own creation as a helpless child in a borrowed manger. The God who got down on His knees and washed the dirty feet of the man who the next day would betray him. And in doing so, taught us that the foundation of true love is humility.
Love is the light that we must shine with our lives and as long as we do that, His light will remain in the world forever.