Everyone seems to be feeling outrage about the fact that a disturbed young man was able to walk onto a high school campus in the middle of the afternoon and use an assault weapon to kill at least seventeen people. Calls for stronger gun control are becoming louder and more insistent, but the political posturing and equivocating are already setting in. Hopefully, this time we’ll be able force changes that will make such an event less likely in the future.
My mind is focused on Nikolas Cruz, the young man who pulled the trigger, again and again and again. What was going on in his mind that made what he was doing seem justified? What did those helpless victims represent to him?
The clear image I get from the background information I’m hearing on his life story can be summarized in one word – isolated. He felt all alone. His behavior was so bizarre that, when he tried, in awkward ways, to reach out to others, he only made things worse; people recoiled from him. He had even pushed his adoptive mother away through the years she tried to love him, before her death in 2017. I thought of him as a dark and brooding figure, like Heathcliff, the tragic hero of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff had power and wealth to use to accomplish his dark revenge. Nikolas Cruz had an assault rifle with lots of bullets.
Isolation like this is even more pathetic and tragic in a slightly-built nineteen-year-old. I see Nikolas in the lyrics of “Alone in a Crowd,” a song from the 90s:
Back and forth, side to side
A lonely boy, a man’s disguise
Another silhouette against the sky*
How sad that no one could reach the lonely boy inside.
There are isolated people around us. They’re still reachable. They’re so used to being unwanted that when we try to approach them, they may snarl and warn us to back off. But we need to insist; we need to include them; we need to give them unwanted hugs, even if they’re prickly. If we don’t reach out to them, we may be helping to create a monster who will attack innocent people around them – usually with words, rather than bullets. But sometimes with bullets.
And God equips us to reach out to those who are becoming more and more isolated. One of Jesus’ last teachings to his disciples was this awesome challenge:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
How did he love us? With a total embrace, in spite of the thorns. That’s how he empowers us to love each other, even the most hopelessly isolated person near us. Ask the Lord to lead you to
A lonely boy, a man’s disguise
Another silhouette against the sky.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
* “Alone in a Crowd,” Catch 22, 1996.