Mass Shootings, Father’s Day, and the Cross
June 16, 2016
By Matt Morrison
It was a cold, rainy day in Dallas. We were just weeks from Christmas and I was working alone in my office when the chilling alert popped up on my phone.
“BREAKING: Shots reported at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.”
When the report first broke on CNN, no one could imagine what was happening inside the school building of that sleepy bedroom community. At first, it seemed that some kind of deadly dustup had taken place in the main office. But when I got to the gym during my lunch break a few hours later, all of the television screens were showing the same coverage. Officials estimated that over 20 people, mostly children, were dead inside the school.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I had watched wall-to-wall coverage of a mass shooting. I was in 6th grade with Columbine High School was attacked. Like so many others, I’ll never be able to shake the images from Jonesboro, Aurora, Orlando, San Bernardino, or the countless others. But Newtown was different. As my eyes were glued to the TV later that night, I held my sleeping baby boy in my arms. I didn’t just think about dead children in that school. I thought about my dead child in there.
A VIOLENT LOVE
When we first learned we were pregnant with Caleb, everyone kept telling me how much I would love him; how he would change my world forever.
“You’ve never known a love like this,” they’d say.
But while I believed them, I couldn’t possibly understand what they meant. The moment he came was a tense one. We had spent 13 hours in the hospital with little progress in labor. His heart rate had suddenly become erratic. My wife was exhausted and doctors were speculating something had gone terribly wrong.
But when I heard his cry for the first time in that operating room, it was just surreal. Out came the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. He was perfect. He was healthy. And he was mine.
After all the drama, they wrapped him up and placed him in my arms while they attended to my wife. Everyone was right, but not as I had imagined they would be. It really was a different kind of love. It wasn’t a sweet love. It was fierce.
For the first time, I was scared of the violence I was capable of inflicting on anyone willing to harm this little boy. Caleb unlocked a side of me that I never even knew existed. I was willing to do anything, and I mean anything, to protect him.
IN THE FIREHOUSE
I simply can’t fathom the pain those Newtown parents felt when they received a text message alert from the school that their children were in harm’s way. They were asked to immediately report to the firehouse next door to the school. When they arrived, they found a crowd of other anxious moms and dads, first responders, and city officials. Next door, police released evacuated children, one classroom at a time. The kids were rushed into the firehouse where parents whisked them into their arms and drove them home safely.
But after a few hours, the crowd thinned out. Children came in less frequently. The police paced around the room, guns drawn, while parents’ imaginations ran wild. Philip Yancey shares the testimony of a counselor in the firehouse that afternoon:
The parents assumed the worst but were clinging to a shred of hope. Finally the governor arrived. He expressed his sorrow, assured us that authorities were doing all they could, and said he would let us know about the children as soon as they had positive ID. Be prepared that you may be here until the early hours of the morning, he added. Almost four hours had already passed. While he was speaking, one woman shouted, ‘Are there any survivors?’ The governor stopped for a minute, glanced around, then resumed talking. The woman interrupted again, louder, ‘Tell us the truth, Are there any survivors?!’
He paused, looked at his aides as if for help, then gave the news we all expected but no one wanted to hear: ‘I probably shouldn’t say this. The information we have at this point is that all the children remaining in the school are fatalities.’
I will never forget the sound that erupted at that moment, a collective primal wail that boiled up in the room. It reminded me of a scene from the Middle East after a bombing when relatives beat their breasts and scream their grief. That was when the parents knew for certain that they would never see their six- and seven-year-old children again.
Several news outlets reported families taking down Christmas lights outside their homes and throwing out their trees. The presents wrapped with love in their living rooms no longer belonged to anyone.
I was furious for the parents that day. How could anyone do this to a child? How does the shooter get to kill himself? To be honest, why couldn’t the parents just torture him until he begged for sweet death? I guarantee it’s what I would have wanted. A simple death would just be too merciful for the murderer of my son.
THE SCANDAL OF THE CROSS
As I reflect on that scene and my own experiences with fatherhood, I’m always forced to look at the cross. Before Caleb was born, I always thought of the crucifixion from Jesus’ point of view. Now I think about the Father. What was going through the mind of God as he watched Roman soldiers mutilate his son, ridicule him, strip him naked, and nail him to a cross where he slowly died?
If it were me, I’d have destroyed the entire human race. I’d send everyone to hell and make all of creation a distant memory. But the scandal of the Gospel is that God let it happen as part of his ultimate plan. He sent Jesus for that very moment. I love what Paul writes in Romans 5:8:
“But God demonstrates his own love for his in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In other words, God saw the darkness in our hearts and chose to sacrifice his only son on our behalf. He didn’t wait for us to apologize, admit we were wrong, or beg for forgiveness. No, while we were still shaking our fists at him and living for ourselves, he set a plan in motion that ended with his son dead on a cross.
And when he sees your worst moments, looks at a bloodied Jesus, he considers you worth it. He doesn’t regret the sacrifice. He isn’t angry. It was his idea – his plan to win you back.
In fact, that fierce, protective love that parents feel for their children is the same love God demonstrates towards you and me. It’s why he calls himself our Heavenly Father. No matter what you do or where you run, that fierce love remains.
Caleb could spit in my face, tell me he hates me, even hit me, and I’d still love him that same way. I’d still pursue him. And it’s exactly the same love our Father shows us. This Father’s Day, let the reality of this fierce love sink deep into your heart. Know you have a Father in Heaven who branded you with his image, who created you with purpose and intentionality, and will never stop.