The case of Gabby Petito has captured the world’s attention. We now know the 22 year old who sought to make a name for herself as a social media influencer is dead and the man who is last known to have seen her alive is missing. A nationwide manhunt is underway for Brian Laundrie and people are tuned in. As of September 24,, #GabbyPetito received more than 959 million views on TikTok. Gabby’s family used the social media platform to garner support and raise awareness of her case, but many are now criticizing the emphasis on this case as evidence in the culture of something dubbed “Missing White Woman syndrome.”
So, who else is missing? How many people have been reported missing just this year in America? A lot. But not everyone who is missing is missing for the same reason, most have not gone permanently missing and a relatively small number are missing because they are victims of abduction. But that relatively small number is still huge. Every story matters and every life is equally precious. Our desire should be aligned with the heart of God who brings light to bear on darkness and seeks the lost until they are found.
Consider for a moment that each of those numbers represents a real person, with a family, and a mystery that needs to be resolved.
Do you know someone who is missing or a family who has a loved one among those missing in America today? Do you know someone who loves a prodigal? Do you someone who has a child with a life-controlling issue like PTSD, addiction or mental illness that has resulted in nomadic homelessness? Do you know someone whose family member vanished without a trace? There are families across the country and around the world whose children are missing. Consider the reality that an estimated 40.3 million people are being trafficked right now around the world. Hundreds of thousands in the United States. Many of them children.
The Bible speaks to each and every one of these realities. We have the story of the Father and the two sons, one who is called Prodigal. In the Bible, that story has a happy ending. So too does the story of the adolescent Jesus who, at the age of 12, did not tell his parents where he was going when they left Jerusalem to return home to Nazareth. The searched for three days. Imagine what that was like for them. Read both stories in Luke 2:41-52 and Luke 15:11-32.
Consider the story the brothers of Joseph told their father, Jacob, about why his youngest son had not returned home with them. It is a story of a father’s broken heart and years of anguish – and yes, it too has a redeemed resolution but there is so much interim pain. Read Genesis 37-45.
The very first family suffered the grief of a missing, murdered child. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Able. One day, they asked Cain about the whereabouts of his brother, Abel. We learn that Cain was the last one to see Abel alive because Cain slew Abel. Cain’s defensive response, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” has been applied in positive terms but when it was asked it was an admission that the life entrusted had not been kept as a sacred trust but taken in a jealous rage. Every parent of a missing child fears they may also be the parent of a murdered child. It has been so since the beginning. Read Genesis 4:1-13.
Into all this enters God who seeks the missing that He might save the lost.
Adam and Eve knew the reality of the God who searches out His missing children. The very first question God asked (Genesis 3:9) is the question of a seeking heart: “Where are you?”
Nothing has changed. In Jesus we have the Incarnate God who came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10).
As we process the Gabby Petito story today, let us consider first the precious value of every human life. Life matters and every person matters. The lost need to be found. We know a God who has been seeking the lost since the beginning of time and He never tires of the pursuit. It is the desire of God that none would be lost (2 Peter 3:9). The search for Gabby Petito provided for one kind of testimony even as now the search for Brian Laundrie provides another. We pray for their families and we pray for law enforcement. We affirm the truth that there is nowhere to hide from the ultimate justice of God and we acknowledge there will be literal hell to pay for the taking of the life of Gabby Petito. That is the value God places on each and every one of His image bearers. No matter the color of skin, the nation of origin, the circumstance of conception, the relative contribution made in this life or the manner of their death. God loves us every one and God holds to account those who would take a life into their own hands.
We also affirm that even if the long-arm of the law of the land proves too short for justice in this day and age, the justice of God is eternal and you can be confident that His justice will be satisfied.
The other side of our witness in the midst of all this is that precious people are missing and their families are in anguish. Let us pray today for every family now enduring such great a burden.