The Presence of My Enemy: Spiritual Challenges of a Mass Shooting

People of faith typically react with sorrow and outrage with the news of shootings such as those at Sandy Hook and El Paso. But the after effects of such tragedies, especially when they happen in one’s hometown can include spiritual challenges and struggles.

The most obvious challenge is the question “Why? Why does God allow such things?” I have struggled with this question most of my life. These shootings intensify the question. Why did God permit the death of a young mother, shot as she shielded her infant, much less the deaths of other innocents. Why did God permit others to survive? Or perhaps God had nothing to do with it? Where if anywhere was God at Sandy Hook, in Odessa TX, or at a Walmart one Saturday morning?

Like Job, I and others would like for God to show up and explain Himself/Herself.

And yet in the face of such tragedies, persons in pain turn to their churches, synagogues, and mosques for comfort more than for answers. This echoes the words of Rabbi Harold Kushner who suggests that, while God may not have intended those deaths, He/She is there amidst the carnage, there for comfort and consolation.

As I deal with my own anger toward a shooter much less my anger toward politicians whose rhetoric inflames a culture of violence, Jesus’ words challenge me: “Love your enemy.” Clearly acts of mass violence are against Jesus’ teachings as are words of judgment against migrants trying to seek a better life. Do I just ignore His words, saying “Well, Jesus said those words for another time and place.” Does Jesus not challenge me to love both the politician and the 21 year-old killer sitting in an El Paso jail?

As I muddle through this challenge, I take comfort knowing that Jesus did not say I had to like my enemy. Thus, loving my enemy might involve forgiveness and prayers for healing.

The greatest spiritual challenge of mass shootings is fear. The prevalence of mass shootings is in fact something to fear. But the real issue is how much power we give to that fear. I can’t tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t fear. Jesus clearly understood that fear permeates our existence. Time and again, He exhorts us not to be afraid, a theme also echoed in the Psalms where we read “Be still and know that I am God.” Yet contrasted with that is that fact that, in Texas where people are allowed to carry concealed weapons, some are coming to church armed.


I  have to decide what I expect of the God of my understanding. There were people of deep faith shot and killed that Saturday morning. Faith, after all, is not some sort of bullet-proof vest. My placing of my trust in God does not guarantee my safety. I wish it did. At this point, though, I believe faith empowers me against fear.

It is one month since the shootings in El Paso. On CNN, Fox News and elsewhere, it is already “old news”, especially in the face of yet another shooting in Texas. In the midst of such madness, do we simply retreat, hoping that the world will leave us alone or do we hold onto the hope that somehow the madness can stop?

REFLECTION: 1. How have the mass shootings affected you spiritually?



About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
This entry was posted in psychology, spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Presence of My Enemy: Spiritual Challenges of a Mass Shooting

  1. Mike Miller says:

    Rich, nice article. I do differ on the concept that God night be female. I believe that God is clearly described as masculin in the Bible. That being said, the older I get, the more questions I have about all the ‘whys’ in life. In the meantime, I’ll have to wait until I get to Heaven to know fully.
    With age I’d like to think that I know God better than I did in my youth. Understanding that this life on earth is not all there is, seeing a life snuffed out early to me isn’t the tragedy we often think it is. If there is a place called Heaven, and I fully believe that there is, then dying thing is actually not so bad for the Christian. With age comes infirmity, pain, disability, frustration, and often years of loneliness after one’s friends and family have gone on before us. Dying early may mean that we miss out on some really good things in life, but it also means missing out on some of the really difficult things.
    Dying young without having called Jesus ‘Lord and Savior’ is indeed as tragedy. I cry for those dying every day who haven’t bent the knee to God. The Bible says that they will at the judgment, but it will be to late.
    Paul says that for the Christian, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” For an unbeliever, death is not only the ultimate loss, but it is cause for fear of the unknown. Satan uses that fear of death to control mankind. When we surrender our control over our life in obedience to God, then Heaven is our ultimate home, and the fear of death melts away, and so does Satan’s hold on us.
    I’m ready for that last flight to my heavenly home, but as a Christian I feel the obligation to care for those under my responsibility, and to seek to bring others with me. And so I am content to stay and serve my Lord, and to come home when He calls.

  2. Michele says:

    This is spiritually hard for me too. Where is God in all this? Each time there is a shooting it triggers my trauma from 1980 when my friends and I were in the Starburst bar in El Paso and a shooter killed 5 people. Everyone at my table was shot except me. Why? Why does God allow these tragedies? Why is there so much fear and grief and anger and animosity stirring up hate? In “A Grief Observed” CSLewis writes “no one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” So much fear these days. The Bible tells us time and again that fear does not come from God but from the enemy. I can only understand all this to mean the enemy is active and shows up in these tragedies. But so does God in the form of love and kindness from all the helpers. The beloved Mr Rogers said this so sincerely when he shared “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. “. I love Mr Rogers. I love God. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I love my enemies too.

  3. richp45198 says:

    Reblogged this on Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD and commented:

    I wanted to repost this blog in honor of the victims of the Walmart shootings. Sadly, I wonder if the culture of violence in our country will ever heal

Leave a Reply