July 23rd, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] In the midst of America’s worst mass shooting, there were glimmers of goodness in the midst of a cold, calculating evil. As the body-armor clad killer methodically shot his way through the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado, some showed the best of what humanity is capable of even amid the carnage.

Patricia Legarretta cried out “My kids!” As chaos swirled around, 19-year old Jarell Brooks saw the mother holding her two children between rows. Brooks helped her get to the aisle and pushed her ahead through an exit door. He walks on crutches now, recovering from a bullet wound in his leg.

Meanwhile, not one, but three men died each using their bodies to shield someone with whom they went to see Dark Knight Rising. Off duty security guard and Navy veteran Jon Blunk pushed Jansen Young down to the floor and under a seat and then covered her with his own 6-foot-2-inch frame. She didn’t know he had been injured until the shooting stopped and she realized Jon was dead, taking the bullets that would have otherwise killed her as well. Samantha Yowler came away with a gunshot wound to her knee, her boyfriend Matt McQuinn died protecting her, putting his body between her and the gunman. Amanda Lindgren likewise reported that her friend Alex Teves died from gunfire while using his body to shield her.

These are only the stories we know because the men died in the process. Beyond these civilians, there was the unparalleled professionalism of the calm voice of the police dispatcher giving the first responders the information they needed to stop the gunman and save lives. Then there were the numerous police, firefighters and paramedics who willingly rushed into the maelstrom of panic and fear for what could have been their final call.

Imagining a loving God in this tragedy, it would be easy to wish that the 24-year old shooter, James E. Holmes, would have been struck down by a lightning bolt out of a cloudless sky as he walked toward the theater with murderous intent. Why didn’t Jesus intervene with a blinding light and a commanding voice to set things right? That’s not how the world works.

That doesn’t make God weak, but loving. For God cannot both give humans free will and take away that free will. If God took away our choices in order to make sure that there was no pain and suffering in the world, we would no longer be free and without freedom there can be no love. Love must be a choice.

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