The Hate We Hold

This post was written by Annie Wiltse.


It was July 7, 2011.

I was living in Grand Rapids, working at Kumon, and enjoying the summer before my senior year of college.

I was working when my boss came up to me and told me not to let any of the students out of the center without their parents. A few miles south of us, there was violence unleashing. "They're killing kids down there," she said.

It was nearly ten years to 9/11. I flashed back to the memory of walking into my classroom, black smoke streaming from a skyscraper, my teacher's eyes unmoving from the scene, and realized I knew just how she had felt.

•••

How close do you have to be to a tragedy for it to be yours?

I didn't know any one of the seven people who died in their homes. But my friend did. And another friend nearly got caught in a crossfire of bullets when she crossed an intersection downtown where the shooter was driving through, gun firing.

I drove home from work and saw more police cars on one small stretch of highway than I think I had ever seen in my life to that point. I happened to be going the opposite direction of the barricade. And then I got home to realize just minutes before I had driven I-131, the police shut it down because the shooter was driving the same stretch.

He abandoned his car on the highway, took up refuge in a random house, held the people within hostage. By the middle of the night, the hostages were free and he had turned the gun on himself. I don't remember that concretely although I know it happened, but I do remember vividly the moment at which I read a status of someone I knew on Facebook: "Thank God the shooter killed himself."

Thank God what?!

•••

I'm writing this the day after Oregon and I'm just wondering what people are thanking God for in the aftermath of this mess.

In university, I took a class called Trauma, Culture, Memory, and we talked about 9/11 almost nonstop every class period. How did we, as a nation, process that? react to that? grow from that? What was the extent of sacred space and sacred time? (Sacred space is the room you give someone to grieve tragedy. Sacred time is the length of time you give them to do the same.)

I'm wondering the same here. I'm not sure what's appropriate to say or do or even think.

But I do know one thing. If you're thanking God the shooter is dead, you're thanking Him for the wrong thing.

•••

Let me tell you a different version of the same story: In July of 2011, I was living in Grand Rapids when a shooter killed eight people.

It strikes you differently, doesn't it? You have sympathy and grief split eight different ways. But when we hear he shot seven other people and then killed himself, we often only split it the seven.

I'm suggesting we split it an eighth.

Because you know what else I grieve, besides the lives of seven people who shouldn't have had to die?

I grieve the life of an eighth person who shouldn't have had to die.

I grieve the fact that I will only know him for his most visible sins.

I grieve that sin gripped him in such a way that he felt taking life was the appropriate response to whatever had provoked him.

I grieve the life of a person that God created and loved. I grieve the life of a person that will now never have the opportunity to respond to that.

•••

Pray for those who persecute you.

I don't think it's too soon to remind myself and you of that. I don't think it's too soon to tell you we shouldn't vilify the shooter at UCC in Oregon even though he intentionally targeted those who would claim the name of Christ.

I don't think it's too soon to remind myself and you that there's another man who killed Christians that we actually laud.

His name was Saul.

He changed it, though. To Paul.

•••

This is grace. This is the good fight.

This is putting everything behind us that would call us to sin and hate and anger.

This is putting only Jesus before us.

"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

Forgive us, Father. For the hate we hold for murderers only makes us the same.


Annie Wiltse is a 24-year-old writer, traveler, and talkative introvert who loves Jesus desperately. A native of the Detroit suburbs, she graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2012 with a B.A. in English Language and Literature and currently works in financial education. Annie enjoys donuts, iced vanilla chai tea lattes, reading, and employing the Oxford comma. When she isn't writing on her blog or posting on Instagram, she's usually tweeting up a storm.