They say it is the worst mass killing on U.S. soil, and it happened today.

Fifty people dead, and 53 more wounded, they say.

All across social media, people have one resounding question: WHY?

Some say religion is to blame, while others say things like “intolerance” and “hate.”  Some say the fault belongs to gun laws in our country (or the lack thereof) while some blame law enforcement for not acting on prior concerns about the killer.  Still others will claim this tragedy is “God’s judgment” on our nation, or even on a particular group of people.

May I suggest an answer that is far deeper, yet far simpler than any of these?

There is a violence that springs out of a sense of self-preservation, but this was not that kind of violence.

There is a violence that is birthed by a desire to protect people we love or things we care about, but this was not that kind of violence.

The kind of violence that causes a man to take multiple weapons into a crowded nightclub and open fire has its root in one simple thing: the devaluing of another human being, and there is one key belief that causes this behavior.

Self-righteousness.

I believe the reason fifty precious lives were extinguished is because one man felt he was above them in some way, which to him justified his heinous actions.  He thought he was better than them, therefore their lives were less important than his, and worth taking.

You see, when a person believes themselves to be morally superior to another, it’s only a matter of time before they stop seeing the other as a person at all.  They are something different, something less, some thing that has a name and a category, but isn’t the same as them.

This is when the broad brushes come out, and the self-righteous person stops seeing certain people as fellow human beings and instead sees “gays,” “Christians,” “Muslims,” “conservatives,” “liberals,” “fundamentalists,” “white people,” “black people,” “rich people,” “people on welfare,” and the list goes on and on.

And we all do it.

Maybe you’re feeling that way right now towards the killer, thinking of him as an “extremist,” or a “terrorist,” or a “fanatic.”  Maybe these labels apply, but here’s the deeper truth: he was a person, too.

I’m not saying he deserves pity, or that his actions were in any way right or justifiable.  I’m saying that for all of us, we would be wise to use caution as we ponder this incident, because if we’re not careful, our broad-brush statements about the kind of people who do this sort of thing have the potential to put us in the same boat as him, not as murderers with our hands, but as murderers in our hearts.

This is why the Gospel of Jesus is so powerful, because at its core is the truth that nothing you or I can ever do will make us better than anyone else.  No amount of rule-keeping or moral behavior can earn us the right to be called righteous; only Jesus can do that.  The best we can do is receive a gift we didn’t earn, and remember that all of us are broken and in need of grace.  Embracing this reality sets us free from the need to place ourselves on a pedestal for our performance, and releases us to truly love others as full equals in the human race, regardless of who they are or what they believe or what they’ve done.

Every human life is precious, valuable, and worthy of respect and dignity.  When you realize that you’re no better than anyone else, then whether you agree with their beliefs and behaviors or can’t stand anything they stand for, you can still choose to see them for what they are: a person just like you.

So, if you’re a praying person, pray for Orlando.  Pray for the victims and their families.  Pray for the people of the surrounding communities, and for the law enforcement and medical personnel who will continue to sort through the pieces in the days and weeks to come.  Pray for the killer’s family as they bear the shame and guilt for the actions of this man.

And pray for yourself, as well.

–Pastor Phillip