Twenty minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve, a gunman walked into a church and down the center aisle. With his gun in one hand and an ammunition clip in the other, this unidentified gunman walked into a Fayetteville, North Carolina church’s prayer meeting “troubled” according to The Blaze.
What could trouble a man to hoist a gun in a church with sixty-plus people? NBC News reported that he was a military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. With a wife who had been recently diagnosed with a serious illness, he was stressed, in need of money, and off his medication. Telling NBC News, “He got the gun because he was going to rob to get money,” Pastor Larry Wright said. “He was going to do what he had to do to take care of his family.”
Without knowing this man’s details but fully aware of the biblical admonition to love, Pastor Larry Wright stepped down from the pulpit and walked towards the man in order to meet him in the middle of the sanctuary.
“I’m the first person to see him and when I saw him, I thought it was a dummy gun, but then I saw the bullet clip in his hand and the bullets were shining,” Pastor Wright said.
“Can I help you?” Wright offered. The courageous pastor, also a retired soldier and current city councilman, offered help to the person who had the potential to cause harm. According to the local Fayetteville Observer, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound pastor was ready for whatever this person was about to do.
Then, as Pastor Wright told CNN, the man lowered both his weapon and his voice, asking Wright to pray for him. Taking the rifle and handing it off to a deacon, Wright with three other deacons began to hug the man and pray over him.
After a time of prayer and ministering to this man, Wright went back up to finish the message. Telling CNN, “I finished the message, I did the altar call and he stood right up, came up to the altar, and gave his life to Christ,” Wright said. “I came down and prayed with him and we embraced. It was like a father embracing a son.”
At the conclusion of the service, the unidentified gunman apologized for inciting fear in the room, but expressed gratitude for their reciprocation of love. Though police officers were awaiting him outside, the man was leaving the building a different person than the person who had come in.
In the biblical narrative, we find a story about a king named Solomon. Without peer in wisdom, King Solomon reigned for forty years. In the beginning of his reign, two women approached Solomon asking him to settle a dispute over who was the true mother of a child. Each woman was highly animated and deeply distressed as she tried to prove her case before the wise Solomon.
Unable to conduct DNA testing at the time, Solomon requested a sword in order that he might split the child in two, each woman receiving half of the child. This only exasperated the animation of the true mother and vengefully satisfied the other woman—if she can’t have the child, no one will.
Solomon, in his soft, albeit potentially tragic answer, revealed who was the true mother. His gentle ruling was potentially barbaric, but cunning in actuality. While the text never reveals if he truly intended to cut the child, it does indicate that his cooling answer brought about peace for a desperate mother.
Today, we live and move in a world in which mass shootings are normative, unrest is characteristic, and many feel as though they are victims. Peace may feel far away but the one who came to bring peace is very close. And could it be that He wants to use your gentle answer, cool response, to bring it about (Proverbs 15:1)? And maybe that starts with asking a question like, “Can I help you?”