In July my wife, granddaughter and I visited Charleston, South Carolina. When there we drove by the Emanuel AME Church, the site where Dylann Roof killed 9 people on June 17, 2015. Outside the church mourners and supporters had placed so many flowers and other signs of remembrance that they spilled over into the street, requiring a lane to be cordoned off. Touched by this outpouring of sympathy and support, my thoughts then turned to the crime itself. I began to think about the horrid nature of the crime, one committed by a young man who later said everyone at the church was “so nice” that he almost did not go through with it. As a Christian, the “so nice” that Dylann alluded to is not hard to understand, as in so many Christians I have met during my almost 37 years as a Christian the presence of God accounts for that “so nice.” That “so nice” in the Charleston Christians also compelled them to later forgive Dylann for the carnage he had created in their midst.
Tragically, such carnage has become too much a fixture of this nation. Vester Lee Flanagan, professionally known as Bryce Williams, stated that the Charleston incident inspired him to kill journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward in Roanoke, Virginia on August 26, 2015. Flanagan noted that he admired Seung-Hui Cho. Cho we may recall was the perpetrator noted for killing 32 and wounding 17 on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Recently, another mass murderer, James Eagan Holmes, was sentenced to life in prison. Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others at a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012. His carnage was preceded by that of Jared Loughner, who killed 6 on January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. Faced with such carnage in this nation, politicians and others championing the need for greater gun control continue to debate with those who speak of their 2nd Amendment rights. Yet, that debate often ignores the underlying factors that lead to such heinous acts, those being the spiritual, emotional and mental makeup of the perpetrators. Thus, I will not focus on that debate.
Rather, I will continue to focus on the “so nice” that Dylann Roof said almost dissuaded him from following through with his deadly plan. As I said earlier, that “so nice,” which also compelled the members of the Emanuel AME Church to forgive Dylann, I attribute to the presence of God. Speaking of the presence of God related to this incident, there are some important factors to note. The presence of God, though almost dissuading Dylann, did not. Why is that? Clearly, by an act of his will Dylann rejected the presence or light of God that would have thwarted his diabolical plan. His decision reflects the truth of John 3:19 (NKJ), “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Had Dylann consistently experienced the presence or light of God throughout his life, would this event have occurred? Based on the loving actions of the members of the Emanuel AME Church, those who celebrate and embrace the presence of God in their lives, His presence compelling them to forgive, it seems quite likely this event would never have happened. Why is that? It is true because God’s presence or light in our lives does not compel us to murder. “Murders,” Galatians 5:24 tells us, is a work of the flesh, works of the flesh being in direct opposition to the will of God, works that are not indicative of His presence or light.
Related to the murders committed by Roof, Flanagan, Cho, Holmes and Loughner, it is obvious that the presence or light of God did not orchestrate the carnage they perpetrated. When they are discussed no mention is ever made of the presence or influence of Christ in their lives. Roof is noted for his racist underpinnings. Flanagan’s actions demonstrate a desire for revenge. Cho’s interactions with the Cook Counseling Center point to a disturbed individual. Holmes has been consistently noted for his bizarre behavior. Loughner we know has wrestled with schizophrenia. Clearly, none of these perpetrators were or are noted for their Christ-like demeanor or behavior. Would that they were, for, if so, things could have been so different.
Making things different, when it comes to discussing how to end such carnage varying perspectives are always offered. Some speak of change through political agendas. Activists seek to enlist our support for their many causes. Others speak of atoning for the mistakes made by generations of the past. Yet, the changes they offer rarely if ever focus on the miraculous change which those at Emanuel AME Church, myself and a vast multitude of other Christians have experienced, that of knowing God’s presence in our lives. Knowing God’s presence affords us the opportunity to experience His regenerative and transforming power in our lives, power which empowers us to put off the ungodly ways of the flesh, surely including murder.
Recognizing the blessed potential of knowing God’s presence in our lives, a question should arise, “How is it that I can experience His presence?” Acts 3:19 (NKJ) answers that question, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
Clearly, the first step is to repent. Repentance speaks of a change of mind accompanied by a change of direction or actions. Specifically, repentance speaks of recognizing that our lives when lived apart from God or in opposition to His ways will not bring peace or joy nor will we experience the blessedness of a life attuned to His purposes (a change of mind). That change of mind is followed by a change of direction and the actions in our lives, one where Christ’s lordship is paramount.
Repentance is then followed by conversion, a conversion marked by spiritual regeneration (being born again). That, spiritually speaking, means we have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Related to the behaviors that should exemplify our lives after conversion, Romans 12:2 (Wuest) states:
And stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your inner being but is patterned after this age; but change your outward expression to one that comes from within and is representative of your inner being, by the renewing of your mind, resulting in your putting to the test what is the will of God, the good and well-pleasing and complete will, and having found that it meets specifications, place your approval upon it.
Renewed minds are exemplified by manners of thinking that recognize and embrace the Lordship of Jesus Christ as revealed in His word, the Bible. Renewed minds recognize that murder, racism, hatred and unforgiveness are not representative of God’s ways and, having found they do not meet God’s specifications, reject them. Renewed minds comprehend that the acceptance and legitimization of sins, whatever those sins might be, is not representative of God’s ways or His love (1 Cor. 13:6). Related to our past sins, renewed minds understand that those sins have not been merely covered, as sins were in the OT by the blood of bulls and goats, but those sins have been remitted or “blotted out” by the blood of Christ. Our sins blotted out, we will experience “times of refreshing.”
“Times of refreshing” speaks of a season of refreshing or restoration from God. Restoration means we are returned to a place of right standing or relationship with God, to one that we did not know as non-Christians. That return to a right standing and a relationship with God means we have been made righteous, not based on our past works, but based solely on the presence of God in our lives. That being so 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJ) explains, “For He made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ.” As those declared righteous, we are encouraged by God, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, NKJ). Being holy means our outward behavior should conform to and be reflective of God’s ways, remembering that we have been “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
We who have experienced spiritual regeneration and our minds being renewed by the Holy Spirit according to the word of God do not commit the types of atrocities committed by Roof, Flanagan, Cho, Holmes and Loughner. Why is that? It is due to the fact we have experienced the presence of God in our lives. That is not to say we have arrived at perfection but it is to say that our consistently experiencing God’s presence provides us with a foundation from which such heinous acts will not be committed. It is due to the fact that times of restoration “come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).