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He Had No Religion

October 5, 2017 by Scott Lisea

Like everyone else, I have no idea how to process the Las Vegas massacre. There seems to be nothing to understand or categorize about a senseless shooting that took so many lives and as of yet, for no apparent purpose, statement, or cause.

We live in sick times when we would find it more palatable to know this terror was brought to us by an ISIS assassin rather than at the hand of a seemingly innocuous citizen. Incidents like these often are described as senseless, and yet this one feels somehow more vacuous and empty of even any illegitimate or misguided meaning. 

While these travesties dislodge our sense of wellbeing and security, we have trained ourselves to a degree of numbness in order to cope.

I was at a conference in Dallas when the news broke, and between sessions I found myself drawn to the public televisions perpetually tuned to CNN. We’ve all been there before. I read there have been 273 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2017 (the number varies, depending on how “mass shooting” is defined).

I watched a brief interview with the culprit’s brother, who stood in his driveway answering the eager reporter’s questions, flabbergasted and adamant that his brother had no prior mental illness and no extreme political leanings. At one point he exclaimed in answer to the reporter’s question, ”Religion? No! He had no religion!”

That struck me. 

The societal expectation now is that one’s religion is a primary motivational suspect in a massacre like this. Cultural suspicion about “religious” people is strong. Research from the Barna Group reveals that a high percentage of Americans now believe religion is dangerous. If you believe you should share your faith with another person, in hope that person would adopt your religion, then, according to our society’s current viewpoint, your religion is dangerous.

“He had no religion.”

I would like to humbly offer that I wish he had mine. And, yes, my religion is dangerous, and that’s the point.

If this killer had my religion—my faith and relationship with Jesus—he would have been shaped by the idea that every person is created in the image of God, born for relationship with God, and that only in that relationship does a person truly thrive and flourish.

If this killer had my religion, he would have had the grace and opportunity to be shaped by love, and to reshape his entire life around loving God and his neighbor.

If this man, who will be known only by his evil actions, had known my Jesus, he would have known that every person he traumatized or murdered was his neighbor—someone to be cherished, served, and loved despite whatever differences exist.

I wish the shooter had my religion, because my religion wages war on evil. Adherents of my religion follow the risen Lord Jesus, who himself rose from the dead and who will someday conquer death itself as the final enemy of God (I Corinthians 15:26).

Jesus calls and invites his followers to join him in remaking the world, and in setting all things that are broken back to rights. If the killer had known Jesus, he could have joined him in this beautiful movement of love.

It is real faith in Christ that inspires people to great and courageous acts of courage, mercy, and justice. It has been Christ followers who have created hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, shelters, schools, and homes for the dying. Christ followers have fought for women’s right to vote, for civic rights, and against slavery. People who know and follow Jesus lead efforts around the world against human trafficking, child enslavement, and many other forms of evil.

This world is not neutral. Those without real religion are painfully impotent, not only to navigate these terrible disasters, but also to do battle against the very real and present evil that incites these incidents.

So, contrary to the polls and declining percentages, may I commend some religion to us all? The Scriptures tell us that true religion is taking care of orphans, doing justice, loving mercy, and keeping oneself unstained from the world. I believe the expression of true religion is possible only as a response to the amazing grace of Jesus. He makes flourishing possible through his forgiveness, sacrifice, and his empowering spirit in our lives.

I do not write these words to condemn this man. There will be enough of that. I write them wishing that somewhere in his background there would have been people who loved God enough to tell this man about him, and that he would have accepted God’s love for himself and been forever shaped by it. I mourn that apparently nobody in his world was courageous enough to risk sharing Jesus with him. I wish he had gone to a Christian school, been loved on by Christian teachers, and grown up hearing the good news. I lament that instead of someone sharing with him a religion that is dangerous for good, he knew no religion, or he chose to believe nothing existed outside himself.

He had no religion. He had no apparent experience of God’s love, the intimate friendship of Jesus, or the empowerment of his indwelling Holy Spirit. In that vacuum, he was overtaken by Evil to do evil. The one who had no religion became a tool of the darkness.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come to give you life, and life to the fullest.”  (John 10:10)

I so fervently wish the madman had my religion; not because it is my brand or my doing, but because the love of Christ is a gift of grace that causes and creates good from the inside out.