[Episcopal News Service] In the midst of America’s worst mass shooting, there were glimmers of goodness in the midst of a cold, calculating evil. As the body-armor clad killer methodically shot his way through the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado, some showed the best of what humanity is capable of even amid the carnage.
Patricia Legarretta cried out “My kids!” As chaos swirled around, 19-year-old Jarell Brooks saw the mother holding her two children between rows. Brooks helped her get to the aisle and pushed her ahead through an exit door. He walks on crutches now, recovering from a bullet wound in his leg.
Meanwhile, not one, but three men died each using their bodies to shield someone with whom they went to see Dark Knight Rising. Off duty security guard and Navy veteran Jon Blunk pushed Jansen Young down to the floor and under a seat and then covered her with his own 6-foot-2-inch frame. She didn’t know he had been injured until the shooting stopped and she realized Jon was dead, taking the bullets that would have otherwise killed her as well. Samantha Yowler came away with a gunshot wound to her knee, her boyfriend Matt McQuinn died protecting her, putting his body between her and the gunman. Amanda Lindgren likewise reported that her friend Alex Teves died from gunfire while using his body to shield her.
These are only the stories we know because the men died in the process. Beyond these civilians, there was the unparalleled professionalism of the calm voice of the police dispatcher giving the first responders the information they needed to stop the gunman and save lives. Then there were the numerous police, firefighters and paramedics who willingly rushed into the maelstrom of panic and fear for what could have been their final call.
Imagining a loving God in this tragedy, it would be easy to wish that the 24-year old shooter, James E. Holmes, would have been struck down by a lightning bolt out of a cloudless sky as he walked toward the theater with murderous intent. Why didn’t Jesus intervene with a blinding light and a commanding voice to set things right? That’s not how the world works.
That doesn’t make God weak, but loving. For God cannot both give humans free will and take away that free will. If God took away our choices in order to make sure that there was no pain and suffering in the world, we would no longer be free and without freedom there can be no love. Love must be a choice.
But a world created for love means freedom to do great evil as well as good. There is no other way. God gave us choice. And through our choices we can get hurt and we can hurt or kill others. We humans bend our wills to do some very ungodly things and the result includes the deaths by drunk drivers and other accidents. It also means that birth defects can occur from known causes like a mother taking drugs while pregnant or causes less understood at the time such as infants harmed by thalidomide.
A universe where real love is an option means a world in which pain and suffering are not only possible, but likely. And yet, this world of choice founded on love is also what makes possible all the noble acts of self-sacrifice like those that unfolded last week at a movie theater in Colorado. This world is not only a world of pain and suffering, but also a world of generosity, kindness, and self-sacrificial love.
God did not stand apart from creation but entered into the creation in the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, to lovingly reweave the tattered tapestry of our world. Where is God when tragedy strikes? God is present in the hearts of those suffering. And God is in the hearts of those who help, as care for others reflects that self-giving love that flows from the very heart of God.
An airliner crashed into the Potomac River on a snowy night and a pedestrian jumped into the water, to pull people to safety and die in the effort. A gunman took over an Amish school and a 13-year old girl told him to kill her first, hoping to buy time for her classmates. At Virginia Tech a professor stood in the way of the attacker to save his students. For every event like the Holocaust there are many hundreds of people who like Maximilian Kolb, the Catholic priest who offered to die in the place of another man, defy evil with acts of self-giving love.
The pattern is universal. In every great act of hatred, there will be those who show love. Though free will can create tragedies, when the dust clears, there are always more stories of light shining in the darkness. More than a mere silver lining, these are the real and tangible signs that the darkness will never overtake the light.
— The Rev. Frank Logue is Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia.