Who didn’t send their children off to elementary school Friday, without a second thought that they wouldn’t return home safe that evening? That’s because they always do, at least for the vast majority of people on the vast number of days. But not Friday in Newtown, Connecticut where a seriously tormented soul took gun in hand to not only kill his mother, but also to go to the elementary school he used to attend to slaughter as many people as he could find. He shot six and seven year-old children at point-blank range, and any adult who tried to save them.
The events of this past weekend have stung us with grief, exacerbated our fears, and provoke our anger to do something to end these recurring mass murders. There’s a lot being written and said about those things. I think there are some larger lessons here as well, that I will cover in three parts this week. This is the first.
The immediacy of television the brings the carnage into our own living rooms, displaying images that strike at the depth of our souls, and makes us part of the drama. Who can watch it without thinking of their children or grandchildren and the horrible loss that those in Newtown will endure for the rest of their lives? The tragedy is almost impossible to process and the fear it provokes reminds us how helpless we can be in a world where the destructive actions of one person can have so much impact on others.
Just how do you make sense of the senseless? Obviously you can’t, but people have been trying all weekend. A parade of pundits and politicians have tried to explain the problem, find someone to blame for it, or use it as leverage for their pet political theory. How could this happen? Shouldn’t someone have stopped this? Should we have better security at our schools, laws against violence in entertainment, or more anti-gun laws? Couldn’t the shooter’s family and friends have seen this coming and intervened before it did? Surely there is something we can do to make sure this never happens again to anyone.
And while there are things society can, and should, do to mitigate the possibility, ultimately there’s nothing we can do to guarantee absolute safety for every person in a free society. There is no way to thwart every destructive soul who wants to take the lives of others into their own hands to serve whatever wicked purpose that’s been nurtured in their soul. Why some revel in the power to destroy others for their own needs is one of the most perplexing themes in human history. We see it play out in school shootings, theater massacres, war, terrorist bombings, tribal violence, and genocide.
In the last few months tens of thousands of Syrians have been brutally killed in the last few months by a dictator only concerned only with his own fading grip on power. Every day hundreds of children die in these power struggles, or just from the inequitable distribution of resources that leave too many without food, safe water, or medical care. Greed and corruption can cause every bit as much devastation in the world as a man with a gun. A twisted soul rapes scores of children as those around him help him hide it. And if you look historically, the amount of senseless violence in human history and the oppression of one people by another is staggering to contemplate.
It’s unfortunate that we forget most of the suffering in the world because they happen too far away from us or because the are so persistent we tune them out rather than ask what we can do to help. Tragedies close to home, however, impact us disproportionately partly because it is such an anamoly to our expectations, and partly because when they happen to people like us in neighborhoods like ours, we feel much more vulnerable and easily taps our worst fears and our deepest anger. But it can also remind us that there is evil in the world, and it delights in destroying others.
Our culture has all but abandoned talk of evil, wanting to believe the best about people and blaming poor behavior on a difficult childhood, psychological problems, or needs beyond their control. Tragedies like this bring us back to a very simple reality. Evil exists in our world and people choose to cooperate with it. Certainly this tragedy points it out in the extreme—the contrast between a calloused killer and innocent little children, the one taking life and those staff members who sacrificed theirs trying to prevent it. But don’t reserve your understanding of evil only for atrocities of this magnitude, or you’ll miss how easily it can infect you. Evil is simply the willingness to force our will on another human being merely because we have the power to do it.
After we watched the news on Saturday night we found these timely words in our evening reading from Proverbs 6:
Here are six things GOD hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion:
eyes that are arrogant,
a tongue that lies,
hands that murder the innocent,
a heart that hatches evil plots,
feet that race down a wicked track,
a mouth that lies under oath,
a troublemaker in the family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Obviously the “hands that murder the innocent,” was in sharp focus that night, but then we were struck by what else God hates to the same degree—arrogance, telling lies under oath, and plotting against others. Evil is expressed not just in tragedies too horrible to contemplate, but also in less overt ways that we harm others around us. Anything we do to force our will over another human being is an extension of evil and mars a bit more of Father’s creation. (Of course, I’m not talking about intervening in someone’s destructive behavior to protect others.)
God hates all these things and please be careful how you hear that. He doesn’t hate the person, he hates the act because of what it does to people he loves. Whatever loss you felt by the tragedy in Connecticut this weekend is multiplied a billion times in the heart of God who bears all the weight of how we humans harm others around us. The grief and anger we feel over this incident reminds us that two kingdoms are at work in this world—one to destroy the other to heal.
Each of us by the decisions we make promote one or the other. Every decision we make matters. Perhaps the most perplexing question of human history is, “How can a loving Father leaves us to the whim of the most wicked among us?” I’m going to write about that as a continuation of this theme in my next posting. The fact that he does, however, ought to encourage us to consider how our actions affect others around us. Our actions have consequences. Yes, murdering innocent children is the worst of it, but from God’s vantage point gossip, envy, dishonesty, taking unfair advantage, telling someone to trust you and then using their trust and kindness to abuse them, and a host of other things, also do real damage to people.
I like Paul’s list of the deeds of the flesh in Galatians 5 to be a great reminder of what we do to add more evil to the world, and his list of the fruits of the Spirit in the same chapter will show how we can promote his healing in those around us. And, no, I don’t share this to make you feel guilty in hopes that you’ll act better. I share it so that our passion to be healers in the world grows and so that we can recognize when our actions become destructive so that we can run to him for healing.
You can’t be a healer in the world, if you are not first being healed by him. Those who know God as Father and are resting secure in his affection have no reason to force their will on another human being, and will instead look for ways to help others who are victimized by the cruel realities of life in a broken age.