Little did Dylann Roof know that his actions would cause the Gospel to advance. Just think about how much we are hearing the Gospel and Christ’s offer of forgiveness through the media as a result of his actions. When Christians are persecuted, Jesus is made known, and it’s all part of His sovereign plan. Paul rejoiced in his persecution in light of this fact:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, – Philippians 1:12
I don’t presume to know where those nine church-goers are now, but I am prepared to “believe all things, hope all things” (1 Cor. 13:7) based on what I’ve heard of the testimonies of those they left behind (not to mention their families’ readiness to forgive Roof, thus demonstrating the love and forgiveness of Christ. And, ironically, Roof has likely never had so many Christians praying for the salvation of his soul). It reminds me of the martyrs we see in Revelation 14:13:
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
It certainly seems their deeds have followed them, and I’m hopeful they are now resting from their labors. Whatever the case, Romans 8:28 holds true for even tragedies like this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
As Dr. James White says, there’s no such thing as purposeless evil. God ordains and permits all things in such a way so as to bring Himself maximum glory. Resting in God’s sovereignty is the only thing that can get us through even the darkest of trials. If those dear people are in heaven with Jesus, they are rejoicing in the martyrdom they experienced, and the reward they now have – Christ.