WORLD subscriber Lauretta Beale emailed about the conversation she had, soon after the shootings, with a daughter attending Virginia Tech. The daughter, in a classroom near where the murderer struck, felt she was going to die: "My immediate response to her was: 'Were you ready?' I felt that your Christian magazine would be the only one that would understand this question."
Why would Christian journalists understand this question when those at mainstream media who are atheists would not? After all, they can be ready to die in the sense of getting their wills in legal order. Those inclined to stoicism can even work to stifle the fear of entering oblivion.
But nonbelievers cannot honestly say to God, "Your will be done." All they can do is curse the tragic moment, suggest some panacea for dealing with it, and then in a couple of days move the spotlight to some other problem.
Some literature professors divide all dramatic compositions into two categories. Tragedies show downfall or destruction, working off our realization that death is inevitable. Comedies are not necessarily funny, but they have central motifs of triumph over adversity; one common variety has a man and a woman changing from warring parties to lovebirds.
Religions after a time may accumulate adherents by force or tradition, but they gain initial support by showing how our human condition, despite appearances, is not tragedy but comedy. That's a tall order, especially after events like those at Virginia Tech, because we seem stuck in tragedy. Even if we don't die at 20 years of age in Blacksburg, we all die sometime, and no amount of fame or fortune can prevent that inevitability.
We talk about the war on terror as a special circumstance, and we're surprised that terror sometimes comes to bucolic campuses. In a larger sense, though, human beings have been in a greater war against a terrifying being for millennia, but only some of us know it. Just as Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States well before 9/11 but only a few Americans paid attention, so Satan declared war on the human race as soon as God created man-and only Christians know the nature of that war.
Then, sometimes, everyone becomes aware that it's wartime-but TV psychologists analyzing the Virginia Tech murderer are far less discerning than Jesus was. He saw troubled souls filled with hatred. He identified the evil spirits within them. He drove them out. Watch the video the killer sent to NBC News-is that not an evil spirit speaking? When the murderer equates himself with Jesus, conveniently forgetting that Jesus was sinless-is that not Satan's voice?
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote that Christians live in enemy territory and are engaged in guerrilla warfare against Satan. Christian professors at state universities gain a sense of this, but that struggle is easy compared to what Christians in Turkey feel: A fortnight ago three employees of a Bible company there had their throats slit (see p. 24). Is that not Satan acting?
The only thing that protects us against the evil one's bullets is Christ's sacrifice, which John Piper aptly described as "the slaughter of the best being in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners."
Another email sent me after the 33 deaths at Virginia Tech described the experience of one student who lived because he dived against a classroom wall; a student from Indonesia, diving a split second later, landed on top of him. The murderer shot the student on top and later came back to fire more bullets into that student, but the one on the bottom survived, saved by the death of another.
The student on top evidently did not intend to give his life that way. But what if he had? Today, all of us sin and therefore deserve death at some point-but what if that student on top had never sinned, and then freely offered up his totally innocent life for not just one but millions or billions of guilty people?
That's the Christian story, and that's why those who fully embrace it can be ready to die. Christians can persevere through tragic days in the knowledge that during its final act God's drama becomes a comedy. We pray for its imminent arrival, but we may first have many scenes of travail.