I’ve had a few people ask me in the past 24 hours how to respond to the many questions raised by the shootings in Newtown, CT. I am writing tonight to add my thoughts to this conversation, as imperfect as they may be. My thoughts will center on some of the theological questions spinning out of yesterday’s tragedy. They are not complete or even heavily edited. I just opened my laptop and started writing. I welcome your dialogue as well in the comments section . . .
Question #1: Where was God at 9:30 yesterday morning? The short answer to this question is the same place He was during the Columbine Shootings, the same place He was during the Holocaust, the same place He was during the Rwandan genocide . . . On His throne. It is at moments like this that our faith is tested the most on the topic of God’s sovereignty over this universe. Our experience (viewing a world that seems totally out of control) is at odds with our theology (God is in control.) For the Christian, moments like yesterday give us a chance to trust God for something big, belief in His character when part of our world is crumbling. We cannot merely tout the sovereignty of God when the cancer goes into remission or the dictator is overthrown. To do so would make us out to be theological “front runners.” We exhibit our faith in the sovereignty of God at precisely moments like this.
Question #2: Why do things like this happen? Evil happens in this world because Satan prowls about like a roaring lion waiting to pounce upon his prey. From the Garden of Eden, Satan has been trying to corrupt, challenge, and destroy. . . yesterday’s actions are part of the outflow of sin and the fall. The really painful truth of yesterday is that the evil that led that young man to commit this heinous crime is still in existence, and inside of all of us. We live out our lives on this planet inside a corrupt shell known biblically as “the flesh.” Our flesh is the part of us tainted by the fall. It is the sin nature that compels us to doubt God and deal selfishly. It is our flesh that drives us to “kill” a relationship with our greed, pride, or anger. It is our flesh that prompts us to destroy others hopes and dreams to further our own agenda. When this shooter walked into the school, he drew from that same selfish, skewed, corrupted nature and committed a terrible crime. The firearms in his hands merely magnified the hate and selfishness in his soul. French philosopher Jean-Jauque Rousseau held a heretical notion that many ascribe to today. The idea is that people are basically good, and if we just leave them alone, they will make wise choices. The biblical understanding of humanity after the fall is quite different. At the core, we are not people who make wise choices, we are sinful people who wander away from God and have the capacity to commit terrible crimes (like Cain to his brother Abel). This does not mean that I think all people are as bad as they could be . . . for many reasons, people choose to deal nicely with others . . . but the ultimate problem of Newtown is the ultimate problem in the world . . . sons of Adam, living lives in direct rebellion to God.
Question #3: Is there hope for today? Absolutely. There is certainly hope. When I heard the news yesterday I was deeply shaken, but not stirred in my hope. At the appointed time, Jesus Christ will return to this earth and put an end to these kinds of senseless acts. He will also judge Satan and usher in His Kingdom on the earth. The Kingdom of God is the fully realized rule of Christ “on earth as it is in heaven.” Moments like yesterday cause me to long for this return all the more. Like an expectant mother who longs for delivery as the kicks inside her womb grow stronger and the nights yield less sleep, so we long more for the return of Christ as we see the true nature of the fallen world in which we live.
Question #4: What can I do? The antidote for these crimes is redemption. The ultimate cure is not gun control laws (though I have thoughts there). The ultimate cure is not better health care (how we deal with mentally unstable people is a real challenge in the world today.) The ultimate cure is not better relationships (though friends and family can be a great stabilizer in our lives). The ultimate cure is Jesus Christ. We need Him. All of us need Him. We need Him to cleanse our souls: to wash us clean from our sins. We need His Spirit to empower us to sanctification: producing His living fruit, not fleshly death in our lives. Because this is our ultimate need, we should allow the events of yesterday to instruct us toward repentance and dependence. Confess our own sin, receive the atonement provided for in Christ, and walk forward in His new life. This is our ultimate response. Simultaneously, we can pray for those victims and everyone impacted by this crime. May God bind up the broken-hearted and may God use this terrible event to lead to a national repentance, turning instead to Jesus Christ.
M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed a movie several years ago called “The Village.” The basic premise of the movie was that a collection of people who had all had a close family member murdered, moved out into the woods (away from society) to establish a life free from criminals, hate, sin, and untimely death. For a few years, their plan seemed to work, until one of their sons attempted to commit murder on another member in their village. This action revealed to the townspeople (and to the audience watching on) that evil does not exist only “out there,” but inside us as well. The solution, therefore, must be an internal cleansing . . . a rebirth. The solution cannot only be to homeschool or improved security or to reform government or to develop better treatment plans and medication for the mentally unstable (though these social solutions may be temporarily helpful in certain situations) . Only Jesus can redeem us. Only Jesus can change us. Only Jesus can return and make this wrong world right. May we all trust in Him more and more as we see our need for His mercy and grace.