Today is the four year anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, CT. It used to be that these senseless acts of violence were separated by months, even years. Recently, the time lapse has become weeks, even days between tragedies. On this solemn anniversary, I am posting an article that I wrote three years ago in light of the Newtown shooting.
Like many of you, I have watched with unspeakable horror at the events that have unfolded in Newtown, CT. Children go to school everyday. The hallways and classrooms are thought to be a safe place. Schools are places of education, molding of lives, friendships, recess, reading, writing, math, science, history and playgrounds. However, Friday, December 14, 2012 serves as another marker that we live in a world that is full of evil and that evil will manifest itself even in the safest of places.
I have heard a variety of adjectives used to describe what happened … senseless, gruesome, shocking, unthinkable and tragic.But the one word used over and over has been evil. And therein lies the heart of our struggle when these evil acts occur. We ask questions like, “How could something like this ever happen?” “How could a person be capable of committing such heinous crimes?”
We struggle with mourning the loss of human life while wanting to see justice brought to the person responsible for the evil. So, are there any truths or answers that can help us make sense of the senseless evil that results in the loss of human life and reorders our thoughts about life? From a biblical perspective, the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and His truth. The Bible is the sufficient source of absolute truth that answers the questions of life and death.
THE REALITY OF HUMAN EVIL
Evil is tragically real. Scripture does not give us trite answers that suppose things are not all that bad. Scripture makes it clear that things are really that bad, and this is a world that is filled with evil on multiple levels (natural evil and moral evil).
Evil in the human experience of life is a problem in the fact that evil is a reality. But, why? Why is there evil? Why do people commit such evil acts? The Bible pinpoints the origin of evil. In Genesis 3 we have the historical account of what is known in theological terms as The Fall. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s clear command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The resulting consequence has been the reality of sin. Sin is best understood as disobedience to God. And sin has consequences. Sin is epitomized in our selfish acts of rebellion against the goodness of God’s love. The result has been the real presence of evil in the world.
Yet, some will say, “But how could a person do something as heinous as this?” Two truths must be considered here. First, there are no degrees of sin. While telling a lie or robbing a bank do not seem to be as heinous as the massacre at the school in Newtown, the reality is that sin is sin as far as morality is concerned. There are not BIG sins and little sins. All sin is sin and all sin has moral consequences (Rom 6:23, wages of sin is death).
Second, the potential wickedness of any human should never be underestimate. The Fall released human moral evil into the cosmos, and every single human being is a sinner, tempted by a full range of sinfulness. When someone does something as seemingly unthinkable as this, we often question how anyone could do such a thing. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to this when he lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
While the debate has ensued about the role of guns and culture, this is not about a video game or our culture going downhill. This is about evil. There is an evil out there. It is personified. This evil proves God exists. People assume that the presence of evil means there is no God. The reality is that the very presence of evil actually points us to the existence of God. The existence of a conscience ingrained upon our minds is classic proof of the existence of God. The sense of morality (good & evil) points us to a God who put this moral law on our hearts in the first place (Moral Law Giver).
This evil is not just the wickedness in the heart of man. There is an evil force known as Satan who is very real, very much alive. More evil than any of us can comprehend. And he takes great joy in this kind of event. The fact is that this kind of evil, one human against another, opens us to the reality that there are spiritual forces out there that we cannot see that are big and bad and ugly. And the hope against those forces is God, more specifically Jesus Christ.
God is HOLY. Holiness is the primary defining characteristic of the person and nature of God. When we start with God is love we miss the point. When we start with God is love we then create a scenario whereby we feel as if we are owed something. Remember, we are sinners who have chosen to disobey God. What we deserve is only eternal death. We define love from our human perspective; rather, the love of God is a holy love.
The problem of evil has raised two primary questions over the years: Can God prevent evil? Which questions the greatness of God. Why does God permit evil? Which questions the goodness of God. (Lady after 9/11, “I think God wanted to stop it but it was just beyond His control.”)
God is great! He is sovereign. He is in control of everything. But He is not the cause of everything. We cannot charge God with being the source of evil and sin because He is holy (w/o sin). God is good! God is not the author of evil. There has been a distortion of His original plan. Evil exists under His sovereign control but is always attributed to secondary agents – primarily people and the devil.
Evil is real. God is great. God is good. God is sovereign over sin but we are responsible for sin. So, is there any hope for us? (Lady after son died in car accident, “Where was your God when my boy died?” He is in same place He was when His boy died.)
THE ANSWER IS IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST
There are no easy answers to our questions. But Christians know that God is sovereign and is in complete control. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign control. This does not meant that God is the author of sin or the origin of evil. James 1:17, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” God’s providential care of His creation strengthens our faith to know that He is governing all of life’s days to the end that He has determined by His grace … eternal life in heaven where we will be free from the penalty, power and presence of sin.
The intersection of God’s sovereignty and evil is the cross of Christ (love/wrath=holy). Remember, the source of evil in the world is mankind’s sinful disobedience to the love of God. The gospel message is the message of God’s triumph for us over sin, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1Corinthians 15:3). The apostle Paul reminds us that this gospel message is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
The message of the gospel is God’s answer to our sin and suffering. The truth is that in the midst of our suffering and pain there is a good, loving, gracious, merciful, just, righteous, holy God who knows our pain and provides the solution to our suffering. God sent His Son, Jesus, to bear God’s wrath for our sin. Jesus lived the life we could not live and died the death (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).
The Christmas season is a poignant reminder to us that God is not silent nor disconnected from our hurts, fears, confusion and struggles with the events of the last couple of days. In the birth of Jesus Christ we are confronted with the reality of God’s love and understanding for us in our sinful human condition. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we say His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus is the eternal Son of God. In Jesus’ birth, He stepped out of eternity and into time and space. In Jesus’ birth, God became a man. He took on flesh and blood. Jesus was fully God and fully man (Philippians 2:5-11). The fact that He was fully man means God has identified with us at our greatest point of need … our humanity. The Bible teaches, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Even though life may bring us experiences that leave us saying, “No one could ever understand what I am going through,” the reality of Jesus’ birth/life is that God does understand. The all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God of the universe is acutely aware of our hurts and fears. Not only is He aware but He has made a provision of victory through His Son Jesus. Because Jesus was born He also died. And in His death the penalty was paid for our sins so that we could have the forgiveness of sins, be right/reconciled with God and experience the peace that passes all understanding. The fact that Jesus is fully God means He is sufficiently able to provide our need for eternal salvation. Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
The biblical response for Christians in these days should be to pray and share the gospel. We should pray for the victims and their families to know God’s grace and peace. We should mourn with them. We should pray for our governing authorities to have God’s wisdom as they investigate and prosecute the case. We should pray for gospel churches in the Newtown community (and all across the nation) to minister the love of Jesus AND the gospel of Jesus in our communities. Morality cannot be legislated satisfactorily. The only sufficient cure is the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we pray we must point people to cross and the gospel.