The New York Daily News made a big splash with the headline “God Isn’t Fixing This,” but that doesn’t mean our prayers have gone unheard. While there may not be an end to violence, true miracles can be found among the heroes who choose to protect those they do not agree with, and among the friends and family of the victims of a horrible tragedy. There is no stronger example of this than what happened during and after the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs.
When Robert Lewis Dear shot police officer Garrett Swasey in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood on Black Friday, Swasey’s church prayed. But they didn’t just pray for Swasey and for his family — they prayed for the shooter, the man who killed their friend in cold blood.
Garrett Swasey did not have to respond to the call to protect those inside the Planned Parenthood. A pro-life evangelical Christian, he worked in a separate jurisdiction but chose to respond to the crisis. He laid his life on the line for the women and doctors at Planned Parenthood, even though he considered abortion to be evil.
Swasey believed that all sinners can be redeemed, as he preached at Colorado Springs’ Hope Chapel two weeks before his death. Swasey’s friend and fellow Elder Scott Dontanville gave the sermon on the Sunday after Swasey’s death, and continued that theme of redemption.
Praying for the Murderer
This redemption extends even to the most heinous sinners — be they abortionists or murderers who attack Planned Parenthood.
In the sermon following Swasey’s death, Dontanville prayed for the man who took away his friend’s life. He forgave the murderer, and asked God to forgive him. Here is the prayer in full:
Father, we pray for Robert. I’ve never met him. Garrett has never met him. Garrett may never meet him, unless he comes to you. Unless he seeks forgiveness, unless he repents of his sins — and not just shooting Garrett. He’s a sinner before he ever did that.
I pray for his soul, Lord, wherever he may be. I pray that you would sovereignly move on his heart, open his eyes to hear your Gospel, that he might respond, that he might see himself as a sinner and reach out to you, his savior.
Because you extend forgiveness to him, although he doesn’t deserve it — and neither did I. And so we pray that you would do a work in his life. God, we forgive him — we can’t not. You’ve forgiven him. I pray for Garrett’s parents — that they could forgive him. I pray for Garrett’s wife — I know she has. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
What more powerful gesture could the members of this bereaved community have shown? They did not pray for justice — for Robert Dear to be given a traitor’s death. Instead, Dontanville led a prayer that prioritized the murderer’s soul, and asked for God to forgive him. What could have motivated this?
The Insanity of the Gospel
In the wake of horrific shootings, politicians call for ways to prevent them. Some demand gun control, others seek mental health reform — for each mass shooter has a kind of insanity. By far the strongest response, from a spiritual perspective, comes from another form of madness, however — the insanity of the Gospel.
In his sermon, Dontanville explained the insanity of his friend Garrett Swasey — “the only thing that motivated him was the Gospel — that’s the only reason why he would lay his life down like that.” Garrett Swasey walked into a Planned Parenthood, knowing there would be a shooter, knowing that his life would almost certainly be in danger. He only did so, Dontanville said, because he knew that God had done more for him.
According to Christian doctrine, every person is sinful and deserves death and hell. There is nothing we can do to redeem ourselves, so God had to do it. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die in one of the most horrific ways possible — so that He could be the sacrifice for us. By believing in Jesus and accepting His sacrifice, a sinner can go to Heaven.
Dontanville narrated the Gospel as a dialogue between God and the believer. God says, “I love you this much to die for you on a cross — you deserve to be on here.” The believer says, “Oh no, not me — I’m a pretty good person!” But “pretty good don’t cut it when you’re talking about a holy, perfect God,” the preacher said. “None of us are going to get into heaven by our own works.”
Jesus’ sacrifice saved Swasey, Dontanville, every true believer — and Dontanville prayed that it would save Robert Lewis Dear as well. This sacrifice alone could explain why Swasey gave up his life for people he considered sinners. It was no different than what Jesus did for him.
Trials of the Christian Walk
Scripture promises that Christians will struggle and face persecution, Dontanville added. Some Christians who do not believe this “suffer with doubt and disappointment as their idea of God and His plan just disintegrate…when they face significant trials, such as what we’re facing today” with the death of Garrett Swasey.
But Hope Chapel does not struggle with this problem, the preacher declared. “We have strong teaching in this church….We can go through these trials because we know the truth! Does it mean they’re easy? No! But you’ve got a foundation that’s going to hold up.”
No kidding! After the death of his friend and fellow preacher, Dontanville not only prayed for the murderer, but connected this tragedy to the Gospel. He had the audacity to say to the bereaved that they should fervently hope that the murderer be saved and forgiven of his sin, because that’s what Garrett Swasey would have wanted.
This is the true pro-life Christian response to such a horrible tragedy. Contrary to some reports in the media, a true pro-lifer does not respond to one form of murder (abortion) with another form of murder (shooting up a Planned Parenthood). Instead, Christians respond to violence and evil by trusting in God’s plan and praying that all sinners may be saved — even the philandering psychopath who murdered the innocent.
The true Christian is not the man with the gun, but the man who throws himself in front of that gun to save people –even the people he believes to be murderers. The one place Robert Lewis Dear could find forgiveness after his heinous shooting was the very church where his victim had preached two weeks previously. Never have I been prouder to call myself a Christian like the good folks at Hope Chapel. May God grant us grace to live like that.