At this writing, no one knows what motivated Stephen Paddock to shoot at 22,000 people. 59 human beings (at least) are dead and more than 500 wounded without a reason why. There will be an intensive search for Paddock’s motive: analyzing his browsing history, emails, texts, relationships, and his mental and physical health.
No matter what investigators find, we already know an important fact about Paddock—a fact we need to examine as we consider our spiritual response to this crime. His behavior gave no significant warning of his plans.
Paddock amassed weapons and ingredients for explosives. He transported at least 23 guns along with ammunition through some of the most surveilled real estate in the world. He set up cameras inside and outside his room. That was a lot of trips to the car to make his snipers nest. Paddock was a meticulous planner.
Yet no one saw it coming. His brother was baffled. His girlfriend was traveling in Asia, unaware of what he was doing (again, at this writing). Paddock had no criminal record. This man who had lived in many places around the country seems to have been hiding in plain sight.
We have a greater ability now to create secret compartments than ever before. It is not our technology so much as our isolated, itinerant existence that allows us to live in anonymity. As postmodern Bedouins in the suburban desert, many people can know us without knowing us deeply.
As a pastor, the most disturbing thing I have observed over the last 15 years is people’s growing secrecy and wariness. We express our views in code until we know it’s safe to talk. We veil our emotions behind selfies. We like churches without intimacy, frenetic lifestyles without silence, and elaborately negotiated relationships without risk. We hide, as if we have never felt so exposed.
Sometimes, as during the 2016 election, the hidden things burst into view, and we realize that we don’t really understand our neighbors. But the hidden things also burst out in muzzle flashes.
No matter what motivated the Las Vegas massacre —ideology, mental instability, or some obsession we haven’t discovered yet — what we know already is important: Paddock’s real emotional world was solitary.
And this kind of solitary life is common. Let’s stop hiding. As part of turning to God in crisis, we need to rebuild trust with each other.