What are we to do with this latest school shooting tragedy? Unlike the killings in Oklahoma City and Ottawa, Canada, this was no terrorist or self-proclaimed warrior carrying out a religious fatwa. Jaylen Fryberg was a 14-year-old boy. He could be my son, or anyone’s. This is really a tragedy, every bit as much as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary almost two years ago. Except that by all accounts, Jaylen Fryberg was no mentally ill recluse. He was an outgoing, smart, athletic boy who was named freshman homecoming king at his school.
There are no words to erase the sorrow the parents of the dead and wounded teenagers. I only have prayers for those being treated for their wounds. Those parents don’t care about political statements, the news media, or gun rights at this hour. They only want their children to recover. Two teenagers dead, four wounded, at least three fighting for their lives.
What drives a young teenager to do this? First of all, it has nothing whatsoever to do with hunting. Those photos of Fryberg holding a 14-point buck for the camera are simply what teenagers in rural America do—they hunt. A boy’s skill at firing a rifle and hitting a deer are irrelevant to shooting a table full of his friends at point blank range with a pistol, then turning the pistol on himself.
It also has nothing whatsoever to do with firearms training. James Holmes had little or no firearm training and purchased 4,000 rounds of ammunition online, practicing only a few times before his deadly spectacle in Aurora. The companies that sold him the ammunition are now being sued for selling to a “crazed, homicidal killer.” (Note: he wasn’t homicidal until he committed the act).
This tragedy has everything to do with passion and despair. The passion of a brokenhearted 14-year-old experiencing his first breakup. Possibly she left him for another friend. Fryberg tweeted his grief.
Did you forget she was my girlfriend?
— Jaylen Fryberg (@frybergj) September 19, 2014
Your gonna piss me off… And then some shits gonna go down and I don’t think you’ll like it… — Jaylen Fryberg (@frybergj) August 20, 2014
For anyone who’s ever lost a girlfriend (or boyfriend) to their best friend, that is some of the worst pain you can feel. A young teenager is ill-equipped to handle it. It happens every day: that’s true. It does, somewhere, to someone, and those kids don’t run out and shoot a table full of people and then themselves. But Jaylen did. If he could take it back, I think he would. If he could place himself at the edge of the cliff of despair before he pulled the trigger, I think he would stop, put the gun away, and walk away.
Lots of things drive people to the edge of the cliff of despair, where rage is pushing them over the edge. As those people get closer, driven by a blind mixture of grief, passion, anger, and an irrational urge to simply kill and die, there is another force pushing back. It’s grace. That’s the Christian name for it, at least. Unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor and mercy pushing back against the bottomless darkness of despair.
Bear with me if I may be completely transparent for a moment. I’ve been to the edge of the cliff. There are only two times in my life I’ve experienced a blind rage—“seeing red”. One time, when I was 17 or 18, and a good friend of mine “stole” my girl. Well, I guess she wasn’t my girl because she left me for him, but in my mind, I was head over heels. I didn’t have the maturity to handle the situation, so I lay in wait for my ex-friend to leave her house, and fairly ran him off the road, to do as much damage as I could (I didn’t have a gun, only a tire iron). But he drove off before I could approach. Fortunately for me, or the rage would have given me a totally different future.
The second time was much, much worse. I was in business with another longtime friend, and we had a disagreement over how the business was being run. The other people in our venture were professionals, a few of them military officers. In this public meeting, my friend proceeded to tell how untrustworthy I was, and recounted every terrible thing I’d ever done since I was thirteen to prove it. I saw red. It was my birthday, adding insult to injury. I walked out in the middle of his talk, went home and brooded. Then I went back. I came into the room with a loaded pistol in my hand. At the last second, when I had racked a round into the chamber, I simply handed the cocked pistol to my friend, and told him to simply kill me, it would hurt less than what I was going through (to his credit, he didn’t take it).
I believe if not for grace, I would have pulled the trigger—possibly on the whole room. I went home and waited to be arrested. What I did was a felony, probably at least three felonies. The years in prison were accruing in my head. The police never came. The next day, I saw my board members again, and asked why they didn’t have me arrested. I was told “every man has his breaking point, and we witnessed yours,” and they never brought it up again. Grace.
Why do some experience grace, again and again, and some don’t? I think that everyone experiences grace. Grace was with every one of these killers, the ones who did it for some twisted fame, the ones who did it for some twisted god, and the ones who did it out of despair. For all the would-be killers in the world who didn’t pull the trigger, it’s grace that restrained them.
Where was grace when Jaylen Fryberg pulled the trigger? God was right there, imploring him to stop. Every fiber in Jaylen’s being felt the pull. But there was another fighter in the battle for Jaylen—the enemy is always there too.
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” —Genesis 5:13-14
The first murder in the Bible was one of jealousy, passion and despair, and Cain wanted to die. Only God’s mark on him allowed him to survive. Jesus was betrayed by Judas, who hung himself on a tree. Most who fall off the cliff of despair into the pit of murder experience the desire to die, and sometimes it’s the desire to die that propels them to murder.
Where was grace when Jaylen Fryberg walked into his school and shot others, then himself? God was right there, ready to place His mark upon Jaylen, but tragically, Jaylen resisted. I was not a Christian when grace stopped my hand from murder. I don’t know why grace restrained me, and not Jaylen. But I do understand the grief and despair he must have felt.
Before we start using this tragedy for political fodder, on both sides of the gun control, school, parenting, hunting, and every-other-debate we have, can we take time to grieve along with Jaylen’s parents, and the parents of the dead and wounded. I’d like to take the side of grace to weep with those who mourn, and pray for those who are injured. There will be plenty of time to yell past each other when this is over. For those parents and friends, it will never be over.