Holy Spirit, Pull These Families Close This Morning: Faith Leaders Respond After Shooter Guns Down a Dozen in 'One of the Safest Cities' in US

People stand behind cordon tape and hold each other after the shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S., Nov. 8, 2018 in this image obtained from social media.
People stand behind cordon tape and hold each other after the shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. Nov. 8, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. (BULA PRODUCTIONS/via REUTERS)

A gunman walks into a bar. It's not the beginning of a sick joke, but the end of at least 12 lives.

Ian David Long, a 28-year-old veteran, stormed into Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, and opened fire. He later shot himself.

"It's absolutely horrific," Capt. Garo Kuredjian tells CNN affiliate KABC. "If you can imagine young people out on a Wednesday night, having a good time, at a bar they've probably been to many times. Thousand Oaks, one of the safest cities in the United States, and something like this happens. We're trying to make sense out of the senseless, it's absolutely tragic."

Though few details are currently known, faith leaders have already turned to the ready weapon of prayer.

Nanette Kirsch, the author of Denial: Abuse, Addiction, and a Life Derailed:

Some tragedies are too evil and senseless to try to make sense of. The shooting in a Thousand Oaks, Calif., bar filled with college students is certainly one of those.

The inevitable question, the one that can cause people to fall away in moments like this is, "Where was God when these young people were crying out? Why did he not stay the gunman's hand, cause his gun to jam or otherwise intervene to rescue these innocent lives?"

It's a question I've spent the past four years seeking answers to as I have delved into the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis through the eyes of one victim, who was my close friend, and who committed suicide as the result of his suffering. His journal was filled with prayers and cries to the Lord. "Where was God?" was one of the questions that drove my journey to write his story.

And here is the answer I found then, as today. God is with us. He was present last night in the midst of the evil and the terror. None of his children died alone.

He was present in the courageous actions of Deputy Ron Helus, who gave his life to protect and defend people who were strangers to him. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends," from John 15:13 comes to life in a powerful way through Deputy Helus' sacrifice.

Brendan Kelly, just 22 years old, was one of the patrons who guided others to safety. Terrified, he too acted selflessly, risking his personal safety for the sake of strangers.

We are quick to question God's character and goodness in times such as this, and that makes sense if you live as a citizen of this world, without line of sight to the spiritual reality unfolding in parallel. This world is broken, sinful and ruled by forces of darkness. We need to stop being surprised when they become visible.

Instead, we must lean on the truths we know of who God is and the ultimate victory he has already won on behalf of those who lost their earthly lives last night and for all of us who will one day make our exit from this world. Paul captures it best in the opening of his letter to the Ephesians:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6, NRSV)

This story will be updated throughout the day. Please check back for more information.

Jessilyn Justice @jessilynjustice is the director of online news for Charisma.

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