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What Chattanooga shooter needed was life

The tragedy in Chattanooga is deeply personal for a church planter and former U.S. Marine who fought in the Persian Gulf. Beyond the debates over surveillance and immigration, he urges Christians to focus on the millions who don’t know God.

Twenty-four years ago, Mohammad Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait. That wasn’t long after many of my brothers in the U.S. Marine Corps and I received orders to deploy to the Persian Gulf, where we later participated in the first Gulf War, an operation to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. 

When I saw the initial report of the shootings in my hometown, I learned that the four dead Marines were from Mike Battery, the very unit with which I deployed to the Gulf. 

RELATED STORY: In Tennessee, prayers and questions of why As news continued to roll in, I learned that Abdulazeez, identified as the shooter, was a graduate of my alma mater, Red Bank High School. A college classmate of mine at Freed-Hardeman University, also from my hometown, taught the sister of the shooter when at Red Bank High and personally knew Mohammed. 

As I contemplate these coincidences and pray for the families, I brace myself for the war of words as we, in our pain, recite possible solutions, hoping that the next event might be averted. Predictably, we’ll argue about more surveillance, higher fences, enforcement and creation of new immigration laws. We’ll argue about Second Amendment rights. 

I am glad to live in a nation where such debates can take place. Still, I wonder how constructive it is for us as Christians if the greater part of our time is spent at this level — when Jesus tracks in such a different direction.

“Nothing outside of a man can make him unclean by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean,” Jesus tells us in Mark 7:15

If Jesus is right, the often-scurrilous debate in which we engage — over how to stop the symptoms of bigger problems — is the tail wagging the dog. 
Jesus shows us that we can’t solve or prevent problems by regulating or preventing something that doesn’t have the power to cause the problem in the first place. Too often we define health and safety in terms of outside behavior instead of inside fullness. We don’t address the cause of the problem.

The cause? Idolatry.

The truth is that we have too long seen idolatry as purely theological. However, we must grasp this concept (not Islam, not presidential politics, not judicial oversight) to truly understand what is going on around us. It is idolatrous to seek our primary security and safety in anything or anyone other than our Creator. 

In the beginning we are introduced to Adam and Eve. At first, God is the source and sustainer of all things in their life. We know the story. 

Then they collude with Satan and turn God’s creation upside down. They idolize knowledge over God — bringing death upon themselves and all of us. 

Like darkness and light, death is not the opposite of life. It is the absence of life. And the way to life is not by trying hard (building fences or bombs) to not be dead. It is by coming to the God who gives life.

Yes, I acknowledge my first inclination after learning of the Chattanooga shootings was to seek revenge. But that is not who I was created to be. Those personal touchpoints in this tragic story remind me that all of the human intervention that took place in Mohammad Abdulazeez’s life did not bring him life. 

I do not mean to discourage participation in the public arena of ideas. Instead, I invite all of us to realize that our debates — over who should hold an elected office, over who should or shouldn’t be allowed to carry guns — pale in comparison to the tragedy of the millions upon millions around us who do not have life.

This latest tragedy — fueled by a poisonous concoction of clashing worldviews — is only the most recent in a long series of tragedies. 

And, as long as God delays the summing up of all things, it will not be the last. 

Our call is to pursue life, share life and to live it to the fullest. 

Abdulazeez and many like him have been exposed to socialism, capitalism, materialism and other “isms” ad nauseam. 

What he needed was life.

ERIC GREER is a church planter who lives in Plymouth, Mass. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1988 to 1992. He and his wife, Traci, have two daughters, Melanie and Rachel. Contact him at [email protected]

Filed under: Headlines - Secondary Opinion Views

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