The mystery of the motivation behind the machine-gun massacre in Las Vegas — 59 dead and 527 wounded — may literally be a blank. Yes, a fill-in-the-blank exam in which the blank is the answer.
Stephen Paddock’s seemingly-ordinary life was filled with fun and thrills — but not God. Is God against fun? No, but there must be a balance between the moral and the material in our lives here on earth — itself a heavenly body floating in a space whose very existence we cannot explain.
So I went to the Bible to gain perspective on the Las Vegas massacre. “Your adversary the devil walketh the earth, seeking whom he may devour.” “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” I Peter 5:08 and James 4:07 suggest that Paddock might have been an empty vessel into which the devil poured evil. Lots of it. Killing strangers from far away is a special kind of psychopathic evil.
Paddock evidently led a life of thrill-seeking — risky investments, gambling, flying airplanes, and, last but not least, guns. Lots of them. Positioned to kill strangers. Lots of them. Like the drug addict who’s always seeking a higher high, Paddock’s final thrill was the thrill of the kill.
Suffice it to say that Paddock had not immunized himself with enough respect for humanity, morality and the immortal to make the devil flee. Nay, the devil helped him assemble a military-grade stash of weaponry and perfectly position it to carry out our nation’s worst mass murder. And Paddock didn’t blink an eye as he pulled the trigger on his arsenal of evil.
I first encountered terrorism in Northern Ireland — eight trips to Belfast. One of the worst murders I wrote about was that of Stephen Restorick, the last British soldier to die before a peace agreement silenced the guns. He was shot in the back from half a mile away, much as Sonny Melton, a registered nurse from Big Sandy, Tennessee, was shot from afar while shielding his wife in a desperate attempt to flee from a sniper — unseen, unknown and deadly.
Right now all of the bereaved loved ones of the 59 victims are showered with attention and besieged with sincere sorrow from family, friends and yes, strangers and blood-donors they’ve never met. But what about a week from now? What happens after the funerals, after the press puts away their cameras and laptops and goes on to the next story. What then?
Rita Restorick, the mother of that shot-in-the-back British soldier, wrote a book to answer this question. In brief, Rita found her post-funeral world maddeningly normal. “How could everything still be so beautiful, the birds still sing and the sun still shine? Our smiling, fun-loving son was dead, yet everyone rushed around — life goes on, but how could it?” Sad to say, but, yes, the everyday world will soon return to some sense of normality.
But is the new normal in America becoming so secularized that the devil is finding more and more empty vessels in which to pour evil? Yes, I think Paddock was a morally-empty vessel, the blank that is the answer to the fill-in-the-blank exam that seems so perplexing, viz., Why did he do it?
Many of us have gotten so close to certain specific injustices — yes, they are real — that we don’t see the bigger picture of just how good a country we have inherited. There are times and places for protests. And there are times and places to honor America.
Just before Jason Aldean took the stage in Las Vegas, a vast crowd of music fans stood up and waved small lights overhead during the singing of “God Bless America.” The words alone bring a tear to my eye. May small lights get bigger.
James F. Burns is a retired professor at the University of Florida.