At the end of the nineties, a single question and answer held the attention of the Christian subculture. A book was even written about it. One of the gunmen allegedly asked teenaged Cassie Bernall, “Do you believe in God?” to which she answered “Yes.” He then pointed a sawed-off shotgun under the library table where she was crouched, and shot her in the right side of the head, killing her instantly.
Much has been made over the short exchange between killer and victim. Her simple response of “yes” has for a while now been disputed as apocryphal, mistaken, or sentimentalized. But the issue is probably not if she said it, but when. As Amarillo Globe News Feature writer, Don Munsch said, “Didn’t Cassie already say ‘Yes’ to God even before she entered the library that day?”¹ In fact, the night before the Columbine rampage the teen had written a note to a friend that said, “Honestly, I want to live completely for God. It’s hard and scary, but totally worth it.”
She was dead within twenty-four hours of writing that note and within a few hours after personally handing it to her friend at school.
What I always find illuminating was that Cassie hadn’t been an angel. She had dabbled in witchcraft, and in extremely exasperated moments, discussed with a friend how to kill her parents—all incredibly dark stuff. Even with the onset of spiritual rebirth, the challenges of teenage life, angst, and parental frictions still affected her. People who live or die for the Judeo-Christian faith are real people.
I don’t know what actually happened in the Columbine library that day. Kids who witnessed Cassie’s murder told one story and then another. That’s what happens during times of great stress. You get details wrong. Maybe Cassie’s killer didn’t ask her anything at all. The teen gunman may simply have experienced a stupid “whatever, dude” moment, and killed her because she had blonde hair. But judging from what Cassie had been through, the grace she experienced, the God she came to know, I believe that if she had been asked, she would have said yes. At the risk of sounding irreverent, I’d put money on it.
We are living sacrifices before we ever get to the place of becoming dead ones. The irony is at the same time, we’re not perfect. We carry on, strong one day, weak the next. I wonder what people might say about me in the aftermath of martyrdom. I wonder if they would be a little confused, not because of my faith in Christ, but because I just didn’t seem to be martyr material. You know—the dignified quietude, the walk, the carefully measured words, a heavenward gaze, the saintly love for all souls, abstinence from frivolous pleasures, a calm and transcendent joy.
Instead, they might say:
He told funny stories.
He was a workaholic.
He frequently got homesick, not for heaven but for the south.
When his blood sugar got low he got cranky.
He liked candy too much.
He was privately sad at times.
Talk about the wrong stuff. None of it sounds very holy or mysterious.
Your list is just as bad—probably even more quirky. And yet you and I have become “One spirit” with Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:17), which in terms of daily experience lends itself to a lot of complications. Think of it: an imperfect life in union with Jesus. You—yes, you—have been inseparably joined to a Person, the same one God the Father called, “…My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!” (Matt. 3:17).
One thing I always like when I read Leviticus. After the burnt sacrifice was incinerated, the ashes were put into a bucket and hauled outside the camp to be poured “in a clean place.” (6:10-11). The priest had to be specially dressed and outfitted just to handle it. That means even the ashes of the sacrifice were significant to God. There was a life in that bucket, and it was precious to Him. Remember that no sacrifice you ever truly make for Him, whether in life or in death, is trivial to Him. “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for His name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb. 6:10).
Others might say, “Oh, that didn’t count.” They certainly said it of Cassie. Some of the investigative journalists danced a tattoo around the story—The facts got messed up! Cassie didn’t say “Yes” after all! There really was no martyrdom! And then the haters of all things Christian came out in the comment forums, posting remarks that were so dark I would have sworn the Columbine gunmen themselves had written them, mocking the girl’s faith even from their graves. Same evil, I suppose, just inside different people and expressed through keyboards, not bullets. After all the taunts about a careless and overzealous Christian public with a “persecution complex”….there was still a bucket of ashes to contend with. No one could get rid of it.
“You’d better be careful with it,” says the solemn warning of God.
¹ Amarillo Globe News, Nov. 18, 1999.