The Common Good

Respect for a Father’s Grief

We know we are addicted to something when that behavior damages our relationships with people. When alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, or work is more important than mother, father, husband, wife, child, friend, or neighbor, we know we have a problem. Similarly, we know that we are worshipping an idol when a created thing becomes more important than the Creator, when we put our faith in our fears and a dead thing that cannot love us back becomes the object of our ultimate concern. We know we are worshipping an idol when our devotion fails to cause us to love and to respect our neighbor.

Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.
Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.

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In a Connecticut hearing about gun violence, Neil Heslin — a father whose son died in the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School —asked why any one individual citizen needs military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. People in the room answered by quoting the Second Amendment. In this case, the Second Amendment was more important than this father’s pain. Their lack of respect for his pain indicated a deficit of both compassion and love, not only for this grieving father but for a grieving nation.

Let us be clear. The Second Amendment is not holy writ, and a gun is not God. Far too many Americans have made these created things, these inanimate objects more important than the compassion we ought to have for one another. This is fetishism. This is idolatry. This is morally wrong.

The Bible warns against idolatry from beginning to end. It says: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (I Corinthians 10:14) It instructs us to refrain from anything dedicated to idols or that will cause our brother and sister to stumble. Believers are commanded: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” (I Corinthians 10:24).

Such is the meaning of our faith walk, that we are commanded over and over to love one another. The Bible says in I John 3:11 — “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” The Bible also teaches that obedience is the key to answered prayer:

And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

And this is His commandment that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. (I John 3: 22-23)

Jesus commands a radical love that loves even our enemies, that loves even the criminally insane, terrorists, and thieves. Faith in the name of Jesus is a modality, a way of being in the world that loves so completely, so perfectly, that there is no room for fear. The Bible says:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment

But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (I John 4:18)

The arguments against reasonable gun control laws rest on the proposition that guns will keep us safe from home invasions, tyrannical government, and any dystopian eventuality that we can imagine. This is a deception. When we make guns god and the Second Amendment holy writ, we are allowing our fears to overtake us, and we misplace our faith.

Faith in a God who is love, who loves us beyond measure, who is alive to hear and answer prayer is the power that protects us. This is the God that requires us to have compassion and to respect a father’s grief.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She is author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love and the Public Conversation. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School. 

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