Compassion and Averting Disaster

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” – Matt 7:24-25

To live life the way Jesus directed, to follow His leading, to follow the path laid down in His word – this is to build a house on a solid rock that will withstand the torrent and the wind. The Lord knows how life is supposed to work, and what will make a man truly peaceful and prosperous, and if we would just follow His direction then the trials of life would not overthrow us.

A few verses prior to this, Jesus tells His followers that they are to be salt and light in the earth. That they; that we, are to be an expression of His love for humanity. That we are to show the pathway to Jesus. That we are to live our lives in such a way that men will be drawn to Him, seeing the light that He has shined on us.

Just this week, Omar Thornton, a beverage truck driver in Connecticut, shot and killed eight coworkers before killing himself. He had apparently been caught stealing beer from the distributorship and had been told to quit or he would be fired. At this, he “lost it” and went on a killing spree.

There is a narrative forming out there that Omar was a victim of racial harassment – and he may well have been. Before touching on that issue, let us state unequivocally where blame lies in these killings. Each man is responsible for his own actions – and Omar Thornton will surely be held responsible for his. Let us suppose that the claims of racial harassment are completely accurate – the Lord said “Vengeance is mine” (Deut 32:35). To take on the role of vengeance for oneself is to usurp a role that God has assigned for Himself. Further, even the most aggressive modern human understanding of vengeance does not allow death for harassment. (Surely pre-Christian, pre-Talmud era justice would allow this – as in the Law of Lamech, Gen 4:23-24.) To see murder as a suitable revenge for harassment is not only to usurp the vengeance role of God, but also to place oneself as the center of worship. “These people offended me, the center of worship, the god of myself – therefore they deserve death.”

So, having cast about with many damning words for the crime committed, let me actually get to the main point of this post; again through a side street. On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Colorado – armed to the teeth. Like Thornton, Klebold and Harris had apparently been mocked quite a bit, becoming social outcasts, at least in a moderate sense. As they were preparing for their own killing spree, which would ultimately take the lives of 12 students and one teacher, Harris ran into classmate Brooks Brown in the parking lot, with whom he formerly had some disagreements. Brown chatted only briefly, indicating that Harris had missed a test in the first class. Harris’s response: “Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home.”

For some reason, the newly patched relationship between Brown and Harris, however tenuous, was enough to avert the murderous rage lingering beneath the surface. Harris even convinced Brown to flee the scene before anything bad had happened. Even in his darkest hour, Eric Harris was able to show at least a modicum of compassion, of care for his fellow man. He was still human.

I’ve wondered a number of times in the years since Columbine if the shootings could have been averted. Not by stronger gun laws or better supervision by the parents of Klebold and Harris, but rather by passing compassion from just a few more classmates. If just a few more students at Columbine had reached out to these boys, had treated them as dignified humans, had shown that they mattered – would the disaster have been avoided? Salt and light.

It is not my intention to castigate the Columbine students – what happened was not their fault. For all I know they were extremely compassionate and uplifting for Klebold an Harris. But still I wonder if it could have gone differently … Salt and light.

I wonder the same thing for Omar Thornton. If one or two of his coworkers had taken a personal interest in him, would it have been enough to overcome the racial tensions he felt? Would it have been enough for him to quit the job and walk away, rather than kill eight and himself?

Our Lord was always ministering to the downtrodden. He was always showing them that they were of utter importance to the Kingdom of God. That they mattered in incomprehensible ways. That they mattered enough for Him to die on a Roman cross for their sins. Restoring hope to the world is His way. It should be ours as well.

So be kind on today. Show somebody who likely goes unnoticed by most people that they matter, that they are important. You never know what difference it might make in their lives. Perhaps you will relieve them of their despair … or perhaps you will avert a disaster.

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