On Friday, May 26th, three men were stabbed, two of them to death, by another man who was verbally attacking two young women on a MAX train in Portland. The suspect was apprehended not long afterward, but he was far from remorseful; even in court, he continued shouting racial and religious epithets, claiming patriotism and freedom as his motives and insisting that he was proud of what he did.
When contemplating such a traumatic and tragic event, we Christians often fall back on a familiar verse - one of my favorites, in fact - and proclaim that God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
This can sound bitter even to those who repeat it, because how can a good and just God allow things like this to happen? How can God possibly create something good out of something so terrible?
If anything good can come of this, we must dig deeper than surface-level platitudes. If we can draw true meaning from this despicable episode and apply it to our lives, then perhaps the deaths of those poor souls - and the trauma inflicted on so many others - can be worth more than just another statistic.
First, let’s talk about the young women: the initial targets in this man’s rampage. One of them was a 16-year-old woman of color, and the other was her Muslim friend, who was wearing a hijab. While the political atmosphere of suspicion around immigration and Islam is rife with tension, especially for those in the Christian community, one thing must be heard above everything else: Jesus commands us but two things - to love God, and to love our fellow human beings (Mark 12:30-31).
He did not say “everyone except Muslims.” He did not say “everyone who’s a Southern Baptist,” because we know that our religiosity does not prevent others from receiving salvation. And He certainly did not say “everyone except sinners,” because of course that would mean none of us deserve loving treatment. He said everyone - period.
Therefore, we must love even those who follow false religions - especially those - because they are fellow children of God, period. Yes, they are currently on the wrong path of faith, but we cannot let that fact drive us to create an obstacle to prevent God’s love from shining into their hearts. If we pray for them, show them love, and let God do His thing, perhaps one day they will let Jesus take control. If we purposefully discourage them, we fail to do God’s work and begin instead to work for the enemy - and that’s something we should never desire to do.
Our second lesson is brought to us by the heroes of the day - those men who tried to deescalate the situation and stepped in to defend those young women. These heroes show us what we should strive to do in situations like this, which happen all the more often as the end draws near. God is love, and that is how we are commanded to act (I John 4:8). We must be like these heroes, and have the courage to stand up for each other. We stand up for the weak and the innocent. We stand up for those who are being attacked. And we willingly and fearlessly give up our lives to show God’s love to others (John 15:13).
The final and perhaps most difficult character we can learn from is the suspect. 35-year-old Jeremy Christian, who now faces the possibility of the death penalty for his remorseless actions, has no income, didn’t graduate from high school, and doesn’t even remember the last time he had a permanent address. Though police are unsure if he has any mental health conditions, these facts paint the sad picture of a man who doesn’t have much going for him. It’s easy to say that he’s just a portrait of what happens when everything goes wrong.
However, this does not excuse his actions or his claimed motivations. The fervor and depth of his supposed “patriotism” is only an extreme example of much of the dialogue that is taking place in America today.
Whatever your perspective on the state of the world and our government’s affairs, Jesus has never once condoned the abusive behavior shown towards those young women - those mere children - and their entire ethnic and religious group. As Christians motivated by God’s love, we must strive to show only God’s divine love, never sinful human hatred.
The forces of darkness reign over this world, and they fool us into confusion. Clearly, stabbing people on the train is not a way we should act as Christians. But we must be careful to make it clear that we are not with those who would do so. Yes, we would rather people not follow Islam, which is a path of unrighteousness. Yes, we should protect our citizens as Americans targeted by radical groups. But we must only work in love to correct that - never in hate, never in anger, and never by lashing out.
This is not the first violent incident of hatred committed by Americans toward one another - and it certainly isn’t the last. If we are ever to work toward a place of peace and harmony in this place, we must remember these people and the countless others who are guilty of heroism. We must allow ourselves to be motivated only by God’s love, and to show that love to others wherever we go.
Worship & Media Director
Riviera Baptist Church