A 26-year-old man, once convicted of domestic assault against his wife and infant step-son, fracturing his skull, attacks a small baptist church congregation, during their worship service, in order to get back at his ex-mother-in-law. In his outrageously, violent and horrific attack, he ends up murdering 26 people, half of them children, the youngest 18-months old, the oldest 77 years old. Also among the dead was a mother of five, pregnant with her sixth child. The associate pastor, Bryan Holcomb, who was walking up to the pulpit to preach when he was shot, was one of eight members of the Holcomb family who were senselessly gunned down while they worshiped with their church family. That is what took place in Sutherland Springs, Texas this past Lord's Day, while we at Stanton Evangelical Free Church were hearing God's Word preached from Psalm 34:1-7.
I am still shocked and appalled thinking about it. I'm sure you have had similar reactions. What an unimaginable horror. Most of the congregation members who were there on Sunday are now dead. Their pastor and his wife were away in Oklahoma, so they are still alive, yet they lost their 14-year-old daughter and most of their close friends and church family. I can't imagine the emotional and physical devastation. Sherri Pomeroy, who is the wife of the Senior Pastor summed up the situation by saying, "Most of our church family is gone, our building is probably beyond repair."
We wish we could do something to prevent these things from happening. We wish we could bring all of those precious children and church members back. We wish we never had to hear stories like this on the nightly news. It is awful. It is heartbreaking. What are we as the Lord's people to do?
At times like this I can't help thinking about Job. This man lived through a disastrous day of tragedy not unlike what the people of Sutherland Springs experienced on Sunday. Job was very wealthy, and the father of seven sons and three daughters. The number seven in the Hebrew scriptures is always a number representing the blessing of God and the number ten is a number which represents a totality or completeness. So having seven sons and ten children in all was a sign that would have stood out for the readers of this book that Job was greatly blessed by the LORD. Then one dark day all of it was taken from him. The LORD gave Satan authority to in a sense, remove all of these blessings from Job. He lost his wealth and all ten of his children in a matter of a few minutes.
That wasn't the end of the suffering for Job though. God then gave Satan authority to inflict Job with a leprous condition which caused incredible pain to his whole body. All he could do to ease his pain was to sit on ashes and scrape the scabs off his leprous skin with a piece of broken pottery. Much like the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, I also can't imagine having to deal with the immense pain, suffering and trauma which afflicted Job.
The majority of the book of Job is a discussion/debate that Job has with three friends and one young observer about why God allowed Job to suffer such misery. Job and these men had the same desires that most of our nation has this week. They wanted to make sense of the suffering. They had a desire, a need to come to a certain conclusion as to why it all happened. Why such a righteous man like Job, who was obviously so blessed by God would now seemingly be so cursed. They all offer their explanations. Job defends himself against their accusations and complains to them and the LORD for answers that he believes he deserves. In the end the LORD appears and doesn't provide answers but makes the case to Job and his friends quite plainly that He is God, He is sovereign, and He has His reasons. It is best for us to simply trust Him, fear Him, and be assured He knows what He is doing.
But it is the last seven verses of the book of Job that have been in my mind the most this week. These are the verses that relate how "the LORD restored the fortunes of Job" (42:10). "The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning" (42:12). This clearly shows us what is in store for all the righteous, those who put their hope in the LORD. They will encounter tragedy and suffering in this life. They must pass through "many tribulations," but in the end they will "enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). In the end what we will receive will be far greater, far better, far more glorious than anything we could have, experience, or enjoy in this life. That is promised to all who worship and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. This message is promised to God's people over and over again in Scripture:
"For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)
"He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth. It will be said on that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'" (Isaiah 25:8-9 ESV)
"Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God, . . . I will restore to you the years that the swarming locusts has eaten, . . . . You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame." (Joel 2:23, 25-26 ESV)
"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which shall I choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Philippians 1:21-23 ESV)
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'" (Revelation 21:3-4 ESV)
The only answer we believers have to offer for the horrors and tragedies of this life is the Gospel that these verses reveal. God has saved His children in Christ, and given faith to His people. He will be with us through the trials and tribulations of these days and will provide for us a wonderful eternity of joy and peace and blessing, more than we could ever imagine in the life to come. All because of what Christ has accomplished for us. Not only that, but He has also promised to deal with all those who have wickedly harmed us. Killers like Devin Kelley, have murdered many people whom they don't even know as their final act on this earth. They cowardly then take their own lives rather then face the justice of man. But in taking their own lives, like Mr. Kelley did on Sunday, they have not escaped justice. They will stand before the Holy God, who's children they have murdered, and they will receive the condemnation that their deeds deserve. God will pour out His wrath on them for all eternity in hell. That is also apart of the Gospel which we live by and hope in. The LORD will deliver those who have put their hope in Him from hell and will justly condemn to perdition those who have rejected Him and lived for what is evil.
As we reflect on the tragedy of Sutherland Springs, let us not fear. Let us not lose heart. But let us continue to hold on to the only hope for sinners. Let us hold forth the only hope for sinners, the Word of life, the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us pray for those who are suffering and for those who are lost in the darkness of sin. May we persevere in shining the light of Christ and continue to show up each week to worship Him, and declare His praises while reminding ourselves of the glorious gospel which is our only hope and yet is completely sufficient for us.