Ryan Skeen: Where was grace in another teen murder?


Two lives ruined: one dead, one alive but destroyed.  Two families inextricably linked in horror and pain.  Too close for comfort in my tiny, safe, suburban bubble.

In Warner Robins, Georgia, where I’ve lived for 23 years, a 13-year-old boy shot a 16-year-old in the neck.  After a desperate struggle to save his life, Ryan Skeen was taken off life support last Wednesday and, at the time I’m writing this, his funeral has not been finalized.  Another teen murder.

Kaden Chase Barefoot was charged as an adult with Skeen’s murder.  He shot Skeen while the other teen was on a skateboard in his own driveway, and rode away on his bicycle, according to news reports.  Friends of mine from our church live within sight of the home where the shooting occurred.  They know the family.  This is not some teen in Oregon or Colorado killing his classmates—it’s right here and inexplicable, when our hearts are searching for “why?”

The question for most of us who place our trust in a loving God must be “where was grace?”  Where was God when one young teen points a gun at another and pulls the trigger?  I’ve written about the subject before, and I personally know the twin blinders of passion and anger, which can drive people to commit terrible acts.  I have experienced the grace which stopped those things—the overpowering voice that somehow stops us from doing things that can’t be undone.

In neighboring Macon, a more urban area, there have been 22 homicides so far this year.  Most of them have been gang- or drug-related.  Young people shooting and killing each other, destroying families.  In the last week, two children were shot in what was considered safer Warner Robins.  The 11-year-old girl shot a week ago Thursday is going to make it, while Skeen did not.  Not to get political, but guns didn’t commit the crimes.

The police can’t arrest a gun, as Sheriff David A. Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin noted.  Local authorities here in Georgia would agree.  Yet President Obama continues to push for “gun control” laws to solve the problem of teen violence.  Short of total confiscation, there’s really no solution that works.  And total confiscation is not only unconstitutional, it’s also unworkable in American culture.

At its core, the problem isn’t one of guns.  It’s one of the devaluation of life, the amoral and relativistic indoctrination of teens at schools where religion is seen as a sin worthy of removal from your job, and the power of the government is at once worshipped and undermined simultaneously (see Baltimore).  Kids from single-parent families rarely see their parents for guidance—it’s hard just putting food on the table and a roof over their heads.  They grow up learning that cellphones, video games, and cable TV are what’s important, while living the rest of their lives with a third-world mentality: might is right.

How did that happen?  We could argue all day about it, but we know that there’s a better way.  A moral way.  A gentler way that springs from the human heart without rancor and selfishness.  We see it operate, and when we do, we call it a miracle and go on our merry way.  Our mayor in Warner Robins recently shared a quote from Winston Churchill on Facebook, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

The truth is self-evident—teens kill other teens because they lack a moral compass to prevent them from doing it, they lack parental supervision to stop them from delving into drugs and gangs, and they lack a foundational set of beliefs in personal responsibility.  It’s hard enough being an adolescent with all the attendant strong emotions, but add peer pressure, drugs and immersion in TV and video game violence, and it’s not hard to see why these killings happen.

It’s tragic, and we ask God why He doesn’t stop it.

But here we are with a dead boy to mourn, and his family to support when they are beyond comforting.  We have another family with a boy sitting in the Crisp County Juvenile Detention Center, who is suffering.  Twitter was abuzz with comments deriding Kaden Chase Barefoot and his family: “how could anyone support him?”  “How could anyone want him freed?”  While it’s difficult to understand, if it were my son in the cell, I know I’d want to hug him, hold him, and cry over him—cry until there were no more tears.

No number of apologies could ever bring back a dead boy or undo what young Barefoot did.  No explanations or excuses will do.  And possibly, God will act on hearts and forgiveness will happen, like it did in Charleston against a troubled young man.  Forgiveness is God’s currency—he spends it freely on us.  Yet even after forgiving the shooter, we must come to grips with the question, “where was grace when he pulled the trigger?”  Why couldn’t the grace so freely poured out enabling us to forgive wasn’t there when the bullet flew?  Why couldn’t the shot have missed?  Why didn’t God perform a miracle to save Ryan?

I don’t know why not.  I’ve seen miracles—one young family friend was shot here in Houston County ten years ago.  With 4 separate “1 percent” injuries, he should have died before he made it to the hospital.  Days later when his body suffered necrotic shock, he should have died on the operating table.  Weeks later when fever and infection racked his body, he should have died.  Now he’s an engineer with a master’s degree from Georgia Tech and a family on the west coast.

The only answer I have is that God is sovereign.  Bad things happen to good people, and some truly terrible people end up having fairy tale lives.  But God is also good, and His grace is always here.  Where was grace when Kaden Chase Barefoot shot Ryan Skeen?  It was there, and God was there, suffering right along with us.

It’s the same answer that Jesus had on the cross.  “Save yourself!” they shouted.  And Jesus, God incarnate, could have.  He could have commanded ten thousand angels to arrive instantly, free him from the cross, and devastate the entire Roman army.  That’s what the disciples wanted.  But Jesus knew something that they didn’t.  Saving Himself from suffering would not save us from suffering.  As long as humans have free will, there will be suffering.  People, for their own selfish reasons, will hurt each other, even kill others.

Jesus suffered on the cross, yes, to take our punishment for sin, so that we would have a way to the Father’s righteousness.  But he also suffered so we would have a comfort in our own suffering.  Romans 5:20-21 says “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In our city, a terrible offense was committed, and the law will take care of the human penalty in due time.  Where was grace?  Abounding much more, reigning eternally.  Without it, we are all truly lost.

(crossposted from sgberman.com)