FIRST PERSON: A Nation at Risk

The tragedy of devastating proportions at Virginia Tech has garnered much second-guessing, Monday-morning quarterbacking, and individual assessment. Christians across the country have been doing what they do best, praying and lending a helping hand to the hurting. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has personnel on the ground now in Virginia, as do many others.

My own sympathy has been not only for the families who lost members, but also for the university president and security force at Virginia Tech who are being maligned. As the old military axiom notes, “You plan for battle; but as soon the first shot is fired, the plan is pretty much over.” Assigning blame to anyone in this situation is futile and hurtful. And in the case of the Israeli professor who sacrificed his life, he is, in my book, a genuine hero whose story needs to be told around the globe.

This contemporary hero brings me to my point. Israel has its problems, but it no longer seems to have schoolroom attacks very often. Is anyone asking why? In the late 1960s, a spate of articles appeared about Americans who didn’t want to get involved and hence simply walked by an attack on someone like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. The authors of these articles were concerned that something might have gone wrong deep within the American soul.

Whether that concern was appropriate, then or now, is outside the field of my expertise. Since I was not at Virginia Tech when this event occurred, any judgment on my part would be inappropriate. But it is not inappropriate for me to ask my students and faculty to be prepared to act as courageously as the Israeli professor. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can determine in our hearts if there is even the slightest chance we ever find ourselves in such an unfortunate situation, we will be prepared to prevent some of the carnage to the best of our ability. A few men on United Flight 93 saved many lives on the ground by making a strategic sacrifice. The New Testament said of Jesus, “Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.” Chivalry expects it and logic commands it, but Christianity, it seems to me, should demand it.

At least one person in most Israeli classrooms is armed. This goes a long way toward preventing mass shootings, as this practice has proven. But my request of our faculty and students has nothing to do with guns. It has everything to do with saving lives, even that of a potential assassin. For six or eight men to charge someone intending mass murder will likely save lives. Get the villain on the ground and remove the dangerous weapon! Is there sufficient courage left in America to risk, yes, even to sacrifice on behalf of others? I hope and believe so. But without sitting in judgment on anyone, we must seize opportunities like this tragedy to teach the virtues of courage and sacrifice.

The Department of Homeland Security has never wavered in warning that America is no longer insulated from attacks from without and from within. Further, they have stressed that, short of a police state, we cannot have enough security officers to squelch every desperate attack. Citizens must become involved. My own perspective is that Christians -- who believe that heaven is their real home and that they are prepared for eternity as a result of a life change by Christ -- are even more obligated to act courageously and sacrificially. And I am still just old-fashioned enough to believe that men are responsible to protect women and children.

By the same token, I have asked our professors and students to be prepared, if necessary, not only to minimize death and injury, but also to do the primary assignment given to us by our Lord. We need to be searching for the lost, lonely, hopeless souls whose spirits have somehow been shattered by life’s bitter experiences. To these we need to show not only our love, but also to provide for them the saving message of Jesus, the Christ, who can restore meaning to every life.

Nothing can change what happened in Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia or Colorado. There is little virtue in analysis, and less in judgment. But there is virtue in preparation for the future and in teaching of all the virtues, including courage and sacrifice. I attempt to teach these at Southwestern Seminary and wherever I go. I also continue to teach that the most effective preventative for all hopelessness is the hope available in Jesus and the radically altered life that He gives. I remain confident that there is no contradiction between the message of Christ and decisive, courageous or even sacrificial acts in emergency circumstances. I am grateful to be a part of an institution that has faculty and students with that commitment.

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