20 Years After Columbine: Who do we believe in?

20 years ago today, two dark-hearted young men entered the campus of Columbine High School with the goal of bringing pain and death to as many people as possible. I was 15 at the time, and this is one of the first national events that caught my attention. It left an indelible mark on my life.

Shortly after the events of the day, stories began to come out that at least two of the students who were killed were Christians, perhaps targeted for their beliefs by the killers. Eyewitness accounts say that both Cassie Bernall, and Rachel Scott were questioned about their belief in God before they were murdered.

These stories of martyrdom struck me heavily - a young person my age who, when asked with a gun pointed at her, affirmed that she believed in God. I wondered if I had the same courage. I was challenged to think about the sort of life I should live.

As is often the case with such things, as the investigation began to unfold, more information came forward that threw into question the martyrdom stories, and the whole situation became much more nuanced, as questions flowed forth. What had filled these young men with such rage and hatred? What enabled them to kill indiscriminately without remorse or empathy?

The nation wanted something to blame. The guns, violent video games, bullying… something. We want some easy fix, a critical link in the downward spiral that once corrected would prevent these tragedies from ever occurring again, but what we’ve found is that it’s infinitely more complex than that. The shootings happened in the middle of the Clinton gun ban which ended in 2004, having had no discernable effect on violent crime in the nation. The video games that we blamed have gotten ever more graphic with their violence, but once again seem to have very little effect on crime overall. The shooters were not the abused outcasts that they were initially reported to be. In these desperate attempts to explain, the media systematically attacked and dismissed the religious aspect of the narrative. They simply had no use for it.

No, I would not call Rachel Scott or Cassie Bernall martyrs in common usage of the word. I am not aware of any evidence that they were specifically targeted for their faith, or that if they indeed were asked about their belief in God, that their lives would have been spared had they denied Him. However, in reading their stories, I am struck with the reality that they were martyrs in the original sense. The word martyr comes from a Greek word that simply means “witness.” They were not the spiritual giants that I held them up to be as a teenager. They were flawed and fragile, navigating the difficulties of the teenage years in much the same way I had done. But they were Christ-followers. They lived that way, and they died that way. When faced with a crisis, they called out to God instinctively, and while perhaps raising the ire of their killers, they certainly broke their Heavenly Father’s heart.

Several years later one of the diaries of the murderers was released to the public. Looking through it, you see a window into darkness that had overtaken a soul. In more than one location, scrawled in angry capital letters was the phrase NATURAL SELECTION. You see, the killers had bought into the very same lie that justified the Holocaust. If we are all just animals, some must be more evolved than others, and there is no real value lost if we eliminate the inferiors like so many mosquitoes.

In these snapshots we see two directions a life can take, both supported by their corresponding worldviews. Not everyone who believes in Darwinism will end up like the Columbine shooters, but the naturalistic worldview they were taught nurtured the evil in their own hearts, and you tell me – did they in any way violate the logic or morals of their worldview?

Cassie and Rachel were witnesses. They were witnesses to the strength of a life built upon Christ. Their greatest victory came not in the way that they died, but in the way that they lived, and in the example they left for others to follow – a life (even a tragically short one) of meaning, purpose, love, and kindness that far outshined the evil of their murderers. I for one, am grateful for that light, because it challenged me at a crucial age to follow the same path, and I have no doubt it has done the same for many others. And so, I stand today, 20 years later and affirm with two witnesses who being dead still speak: I believe in God, and I will proclaim His love, faithfulness, and mercy to everyone who will hear me for every moment that I have left.

Thank you, Cassie and Rachel, for your faithfulness.


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