He was a regular guy.
A 64-year old senior citizen living in a retirement village in a quiet suburban town.
He was pleasant to his neighbors, never caused trouble, had not even a single speeding ticket and always parked his car in its proper place.
Normal and nice.
He’s someone you’d wave to when you drove by; someone who’d wave back and smile as he watered his flowers.
Nothing strange about him, nothing conspicuous, nothing unusual.
A great neighbor.
The shop owner who sold him a gun said he was very nice. “The kind of guy who’d mow your lawn, go to church; nothing about him concerned me at all. And we keep an eye out for suspicious characters. You can’t be too careful.”
The gun store owner remembered him when he heard the news.
Stephen Paddock had gone to a hotel and rented a suite on the 32nd floor. He methodically hammered out two windows, positioned two tripods near them and late on a Sunday night took an automatic rifle and began shooting. Below him was a crowd of 22,000 people attending a country music festival.
Before his ten-minute reign of terror was over, Paddock had turned a fun-loving outdoor concert into a bloody killing field. Fifty-eight people died. More than 525 were injured. It was the worst massacre in modern American history.
Paddock took his own life before police broke into his sniper’s perch. Investigators found 19 guns, several of them long rifles, in his hotel suite. They later found another 23 at his modest, well-kept home.
“Normal” ? “Nice”?
The intense search to discover a motive was proving amazingly elusive. Not a hater, apparently, nor was he part of any dangerous or controversial groups. Not into politics. There were no ties to international terrorism.
“This makes no sense.”
That’s what everyone said.
In his statement of consolation to a shocked nation and the grieving families, the President said this quiet, unassuming retired accountant had committed “an act of pure evil.”
Evil. It’s a spiritual word.
It appears in the Bible 613 times. The word “evildoer” appears twice; “evildoers”, 12 times.
Read the scriptures and you’ll see evil. Resident in the heart of every man and every woman. The Bible doesn’t sugar-coat our humanity; it reveals it for what it truly is, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Here, in its holy pages, stands the story of humankind’s fallen condition.
Vegas is the latest violent tragedy. It’s hardly the last.
This gunman may have acted alone but he’s not alone.
Stephen Paddock’s motive? We may never know. The cause of his horror? We do know that.
Or do we?
“The heart is deceitful above all things,” writes the prophet, “and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV).
Stephen Paddock’s heart, perhaps, but surely not yours. Not mine.
We are also evildoers.
You and I have the exact same depraved nature as Stephen Paddock. The same tendency toward evil. The same capacity to hurt and destroy. This is a spiritual genetic strain that runs through the heart of every human being. Though you and I might never commit such a horrific act – and recoil in offense at the suggestion – we daily reflect the same bent toward sin.
“There is none that doeth good; no not one” (Psalm 14:3, KJV).
“For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23,KJV).
There’s not one of us who hasn’t fallen short of God’s standard for right living.
No, we’ve not fallen like Stephen Paddock, but is this not a matter of degree rather than a question of universal, self-evident fact?
To many, such a monstrous deed makes no sense. It violates the optimistic confidence that man, once sufficiently educated, cultured and sophisticated; once liberated from the dark bondage of religious superstitions, will become perfect. He’ll live in a perfect and just society and will do no ill to his neighbor.
The government will help toward this utopia by spending money on programs and passing good laws. In time, we’ll arrive. If we just keep working at it.
It’s the liberal illusion.
Stephen Paddock shatters this illusion.
When we look no further than the 32nd floor, we are shocked at the senseless; we must find reasons outside ourselves to explain it. We can lose all hope in the face of what is ultimately the horrendously inexplicable.
We leave disappointed – and baffled. “Dumbfounded”, as Paddock’s brother admitted.
You and I must look above and beyond the 32nd floor if we are to have a right understanding and a glorious hope.
The tragedy in Las Vegas proved again that the worst of circumstances brings out the best in people. The selfless heroism of concert goers, the long lines to donate blood, the skilled efforts to save lives – these all remind us that God loves us so much because he made us – and made us in his divine image.
In God’s eyes, that’s our value. It’s why we’re worth saving. It’s him, not us.
God sent his Son to redeem us and someday he will place us on his new earth, where goodness, joy and peace shall last forever, unchanged and unchangeable.
Evil will be no more.
Without this eternal perspective, we are, said Paul the apostle, “more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (I Corinthians 15:19, NLT).
Let this certain hope of a once and future resurrection be a comforting confidence that lifts us forever above that 32nd floor.