The devastating shooting at Sandy Brook school in Newtown, Connecticut has once again given our nation pause. What was unheard of not so long ago is becoming nearly commonplace. As the nation grasps to understand and interpret a tragedy of this magnitude, ideologies are made evident by the conclusions and answers put forth. Do some of these conclusions have merit, or are the answers merely another trap of our own making?
Responding to a Conspicuous Phenomenon
It’s been almost 15 years since the infamous slaying of a dozen students and a teacher by two teens in Columbine, Colorado. While not the first of its kind, it may be remembered in American history as the milestone event which signaled a new phenomenon of mass murders in public locales committed by youth, particularly where the victims and the shooter have so little relationship that traditional motives are not present. In a little more than a decade since, we’ve struggled to understand similar events in Red Lake, Westroads Mall, Virginia Tech, and Aurora, and now Newtown – most of which have taken place within about the last 5 years.
It is natural and appropriate to ask ourselves why these events occur. It seems impossible to understand what would prompt anyone to ruthlessly mow down classrooms full of innocent little kindergartners. And in a sense, it is appropriate that we do not understand or identify with such heinous crimes. Yet, we still look for both an explanation and a remedy for what we cannot fully comprehend.
The Societal Tenets
The prevailing thought in the culture at large is that such perpetrators are somehow mentally imbalanced in some severe and twisted way that defies explanation. Discussions surrounding definitions and treatment methods of the mentally ill are commonplace. In essence, we need to somehow identify and treat these mental conditions more effectively in order to prevent these types of incidents.
Even more commonplace as a preventative measure in the public consciousness is the need for new and more restrictive gun control initiatives. Since there are these mentally imbalanced individuals out there, the only way to prevent more tragedies like these is to limit their access to weapons which could be used to carry out such crimes. Banning guns (the sole purpose of which is to kill) would make it much more difficult for such persons to commit these types of crimes.
Facing the Truth About Ourselves
Praise be to God that while society struggles to comprehend and respond to such issues, our Lord has provided a source of complete truth from which to mine all that is necessary for even the most difficult aspects of life. The root question that mankind is really wrestling with is why such horrific acts occur. While as Christians we may not identify with such crimes, the natural man is at a complete loss to comprehend the cause of such evil. Tragedies like these give rise to unique opportunities to share with others powerful truths which can help people understand their dire need of Jesus Christ.
The core cause of such horrific events like these is explained through the doctrine of man’s complete depravity. Although not a popular concept in our culture, it is clearly taught by Scripture. Mankind has no innate “spark”; in fact quite the opposite:
As it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one…”
…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:10-12, 23
This striking passage is a quote which originates from both Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, which declare the same principle. We could be reminded of the familiar passage in Jeremiah which reminds us that,
“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”
Many would be quick to affirm that such young men like the one responsible for the Sandy Brook shooting have hearts that are “desperately sick”. However, we must also realize that this mortal illness infects not only the worst of us, but also the “best” of us. Isaiah 64:6 informs us of what our “good deeds” apart from Christ are truly like in the eyes of one who is Holy, when the prophet says, “…All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” The Apostle Paul gives us this bad news, but follows it up with the good news in Romans 5:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…
…That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
How Depravity Speaks to the Cultural Arguments
In light of this ugly truth about ourselves, what would we say then to the ideas advanced in our culture? Does this violence stem from some chemical imbalance or a mental illness? Not according to Scripture. The problem lies not in the mind of man, but in the heart of man, which is like a stone apart from the transforming power of Jesus Christ (Ezek. 11:19). Any reform of man apart from Christ will be merely a temporal patchwork which treats the symptoms rather than the disease itself.
The truth about man’s depravity also sheds light on the issue of gun control. Again, such thought assumes that the crux of the problem emanates from the tools or objects at man’s disposal, rather than with man himself. Man has had murder in his heart ever since the fall, guns or no (Gen. 4:8). No amount of legislation, education, or money can create the utopia that man envisions. The only truly effective form of gun control will be instituted by Christ Himself when He reigns from His earthly throne:
Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
While removing guns from the populous might theoretically prevent certain instances of gun violence, such action would also create many other acute problems, the explanation of which would be far to lengthy for this already long post! Suffice to say that in proceeding down this path rather than focusing on the source of the violence, we will only further ensnare ourselves.
The Path from Depraved to Reprobate
While the doctrine of depravity explains much about why evil exists in this world, one might yet wonder at how depravity speaks to certain crimes and behavior patterns which deviate from the “everyday” sin which is ever present on earth. In other words, although all men are sinners, why are some men such great sinners? Although all societies have their shortcomings, why do some societies at some times experience such great tragedies like these massacres?
Much of the answer can be found in some of the passages we examined earlier. I previously quoted Romans 3:10-12, and said that the source of this quote is found in Psalm 14 and 53. If we look at these passages, we will find another related principle:
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
Notice how God divinely included a little snippet of the mindset of those who exemplify depravity – they reject the authority – yes even the existence – of God. The principle is this:
The more Godless a society becomes, the more wicked it becomes.
As man rejects more and more of God’s principles, law, and authority, God restrains his wickedness less and less. This downward cycle, if left unimpeded, eventually results in the severe and direct judgement of God. Note what God observed about the society in Noah’s day, before He wiped the earth clean:
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Paul describes this cycle in detail in Romans 1, culminating in this passage:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.
The Reason and Resolution for Cultural Violence
Why are such horrors taking place in our country today? Very simply, we are experiencing the by-product of a depraved society which continually seeks to remove every reminder of God from before their eyes.
The mention of God’s name and reminder of His commands has been systematically eradicated out of the public school system (ironically, where so many of these tragedies occur), and replaced with the ideology that denies God’s very existence. Reminders of God’s law are continually being removed from our nation’s courts of law. This mentality is quickly soaking into society at large where battles are being waged over things like nativity scenes, Christmas trees, crosses, etc. etc.
That replacement religion, Evolution, disguises itself as pure “science”, and by necessity teaches the successive generations that there is nothing inherently special or sacred about life. Human life is no better or important than any other type of life, even plant life. Such philosophy strips life of any meaning, resulting in generations who are ever seeking some meaning to their existence, and many never finding any.
The result is that our society has created an environment which is fertile ground for senseless, meaningless violence. The result is that we abhor such events like the one in Sandy Brook, but vehemently defend the right of others to freely torture and murder even more defenseless children at will via abortion.
Sad to say, the church is far from immune to these societal tendencies. In an effort to “attract” people to church (but how, then, to Christ?), the church continually takes on more and more of the world’s attire, offering vain pleasures as enticements, as well as copying and re-labeling much of the world’s wickedness. The church welcomes more and more of the world’s philosophies day by day, seeking to rectify God’s Word with evolutionary theory, turning to psychology in counseling, and on it goes. The church is failing miserably in equipping and exhorting parents to train and disciple their children, instead offering program after program targeted at those children with ever-diminishing results.
The only cure for violent societal trends like these massacres is the gospel of Jesus Christ which will turn the tide of the rejection of His Word and His principles. And the only way the gospel will reach the society is if the church purifies itself and then empowers and energizes its members to take the light of the gospel with them in word and in deed, beginning with the most immediate sphere of the home, and spreading out from there.