Special Letter to the Editor
One Sunday this past September a woman who had been taking Bible lessons toward membership in our Live Oak, Florida congregation (only two of some twenty lessons remained) was shot to death outside the front door of the church. The victim had been in Bible Class, had stepped outside to talk to her estranged husband, who shot his ex-wife to death, and then “drove about a half mile down the road and turned the gun on himself.”
The following letter was written by Pastor Roehl, now of Bismarck, North Dakota, while serving in Live Oak at the time. Another of our pastors sent this “special letter to the editor” to the Spokesman. Our readers will surely agree that the thoughts the pastor expresses in a letter reporting on such a tragedy are truly pastoral in nature.
— The Editor
When Christians are faced with something like the events that unfolded in front of our church this past Sunday, many lessons can be learned. The first and greatest is that our God is in control. At times like this even our community as a whole can experience the feeling of being out of control. By ourselves we are out of control, that that is not to say that the events are out of control. As horrible and as devastating as this tragedy is, we humbly acknowledge that God was in control and that by His hand any further disaster was prevented. It is true that God saw fit on Sunday to call a fine Christian woman home to Himself in heaven. It was simply her time to be with the Lord. At the same time God prevented any harm from coming to the other members of this church and our community. The deeply disturbed man through whom Satan brought this hardship into our lives was neither a member of Grace Lutheran Church nor was he a member of this community. He was a resident of Gainesville and had been planning these actions against his wife, himself, and against God’s church for quite some time. God allowed his actions only in so far as they would serve to the eternal benefit of Mrs. Jones. He was in control. He told Satan, “This far, and no farther.”
The second lesson we learn from all of this is the true nature of sin. Hollywood has sinned greatly over against God and our country by somehow managing to sterilize and glamorize violence in particular and sin in general. There is nothing heroic or alluring about violence. The real thing, in all its vile ugliness, has no resemblance whatsoever to what we see on television. It is rather a reminder of the natural sin that lies within each one of us. What we experienced on Sunday was exactly the same evil that lies within each one of us apart from Jesus Christ. Here we see, without any of the “lighting” and “make-up,” exactly what Jesus carried to the cross in our behalf. There was and is nothing kind and gentle about sin. Satan has succeeded in masking sin’s true image. Occasionally we see it for what it really is. All of this is in God’s plan to bring us closer to His Son and to thank and praise Hm with even greater appreciation for delivering us from the evil that lives within the sinful flesh of each one of us. In the second chapter of Ephesians our Lord tells us that we all “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” But in v. 8 He goes on, “By grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Finally, we learn again that what Satan intends as disaster for Christians, God turns into blessing. Satan intended this evil to destroy not only a beloved Christian, but also an entire Christian Church. By God’s power and grace Satan has failed miserably. He did not destroy a Christian, he was the instrument that God used to bring her home to heaven. With the support of the Holy Spirit and the rest of our Christian community, Satan has not destroyed this Christian Church. God has used these events to make us all the stronger in our faith, and in the hope and expectation of the life that is to come when the Church Militant will be transformed into the Church Triumphant. To this end the members of Grace Lutheran Church wish to thank all of our Christian friends in and around Live Oak for their kind words of support and encouragement. We ask you to keep all of us, especially the family of the survivors, in your prayers.
In His Service,
Michael J. Roehl, Pastor