My phone dinged Sunday morning, June 12, with Facebook's notification that three of my friends were safe in regard to the Orlando shooting. I had no idea what that meant, but fortunately social media makes it easy to find out what's happening in the world within seconds. My heart sank when I learned of the largest mass shooting in American history at a gay nightclub, with 49 dead and 53 injured. I couldn't even begin to wrap my mind around the pain and horror inflicted on the victims and their families and friends.
Then I learned about the very different kind of pain and horror that also happened in Orlando two days later, when an alligator snatched a two-year-old boy from the edge of a lagoon and won the wrestling match with the boy's father, pulling the toddler under the water and drowning him—in preparation, one might assume, to make a meal of him later.
I shared the horrifying news with students at Probe's Mind Games camp, where we were teaching that week. Three of the campers are from Orlando, and I learned that Floridians just know that alligators are everywhere, and they take precautions. When Aimee heard that the incident had happened on one of the Disney World properties, she asked, "Where's the family from? I bet not Florida. [It was Nebraska.] We know about alligators. You can't see them, but they can see you. Even in four inches of water."
It is certainly possible that the back-to-back nightclub shooting and the alligator snatching both happening in Orlando was just a bizarre coincidence. But I wonder if one is a physical representation of a spiritual reality about very real warfare that happens in the unseen spirit realm.
Alligators are predators. They're always looking for something to kill and eat. I couldn't help but be reminded of 1 Peter 5:8, "Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour."
I am absolutely sure that our enemy the devil was actively prowling at the Pulse nightclub. Jesus said that the devil comes to "steal, kill and destroy" (John 10:10), and he was successful at all three the morning of June 12. As I looked at pictures of all the people who died that day, I saw young men and women who were someone's sons and daughters, someone's nieces and nephews and grandchildren, someone's friends and co-workers, their lives snatched by a horrible predator.
I thought about the parents and loved ones of gay-identifying people who faithfully pray that God will open the eyes of their beloveds in "the far country" of sin and self-indulgence (Luke 15) to see the destructive path they are on and repent. I thought about the parents and loved ones I know personally, with whom I join my prayers for God to protect their children in the far country before the heartless, evil predator snatches them like the alligator grabbed little Lane Graves.
Disney has been changing their signs, from the polite request "No Swimming Please" to the explicit "Danger: Alligators and Snakes in Area." People need to know when they are exposed to dangerous predators, right?
It's true in the spiritual realm as well. Sexual and relational brokenness often leads to sin that opens people to attacks of our enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, always on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Just as real as the alligators in what's supposed to be "The Happiest Place on Earth." Celebrating and encouraging what God calls sin—especially any kind of sexual behavior outside of marriage between a husband and wife—is like erecting a sign at the Seven Seas Lagoon that says, "Come on in, the water's fine."
But it's not. Whether people wade into the shallows or dive into the deep, they are making themselves an offering to the predator, right in his territory.
Like a lion or alligator, the enemy of our souls is on the prowl, seeking to steal, kill and destroy.
Just ask the parents of the ones who died at the Pulse nightclub. Or the parents of little Lane Graves.