This morning several homes are emptier than they were just a day before. There are less than two weeks left before Christmas and presents sit under trees that will never be opened by the little hands they were intended for. A great tragedy has come among us. Yesterday, our nation watched as the horror unfolded. In Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a lone gunman opened fire on faculty and students, killing 26 people, with 20 of those being children ranging from five to ten years of age. Prior to going to the school, gunman, Adam Lanza, murdered his own mother. Following the rampage, Lanza turned the gun on himself, committing suicide and raising the death toll to 28, making this the second deadliest school shooting in our country’s history, exceeded by the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, which took 33 lives.
A brief scan of news reports and social media portray a cacophony of emotions, questions, accusations, and frustrations. We ask, “who could do such a thing?”, “why would someone do such a thing?”, and “how could this happen?”, seeking clarity in a time of great confusion. Many answers have been given to these questions. Some have been helpful, others polarizing, but each lacks the comfort we seek – a comfort outside of ourselves and mankind. Don’t get me wrong, those answers are needed and can be helpful to a degree but they will not ultimately comfort us or those directly involved. So, how are we to respond biblically, as God’s people, to such a heinously inconceivable event such as this?
Let me suggest a few, though not exhaustive, responses that will bring comfort to us and others as well as honor God:
One way we are to biblically respond to the lives stolen away in this murderous attack is for us to mourn. Break down and cry, empathize with the broken families, hug your own children or spouses, and feel the burden of pain and loss. When we mourn we acknowledge that this is not how it is supposed to be. The pain, the sorrow, and the loss are all aspects of a sin cursed world that do not please us nor do they please God. We are right to weep and we are right to mourn. Also, when we mourn, we imitate Jesus Christ. Though clearly different circumstances, Jesus wept with others at the loss of Lazarus. John 11:32-35 says, “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” Christ did not weep because their was no hope or comfort for them but he sought to show compassion, as a sympathetic high priest, that we would follow in his footsteps. Colossians 3:12 declares, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts.” When death, suffering, or a tragedy occurs we are to mourn with those who are mourning, for in doing so we acknowledge that this is not how it is supposed to be, we imitate our Lord, and we, as those who have been shown compassion and by God’s grace, show compassion to the hurting.
2. Affirm the Act as Evil
Underneath our mourning lies another biblical response to this horrific event: affirming the act as evil. The Governor of Connecticut has done well and simply said yesterday, “Evil has visited this community today.” That is an accurate statement. What Adam Lanza did was and is evil. But affirming this is not as simple as it seems. You see, we live in a culture, or better yet, as world saturated with evil and sin. The top selling movies, TV shows, sports, video games, and toys are centered around violence and forms or evil. Our local, national, and global news reports bombarde us with sounds, pictures, and accounts of evil 24 hours a day. This type of exposure and, in many cases, enjoyment (media and sports) has come to desensitize and dehumanize us. How can we can go out a watch a movie that glories murder and mayhem or play a video game that centers on killing people and expect ourselves to be able to discern and separate the differences between those things and a real account of someone(s) murder? We can’t. It is becoming more and more difficult for our world and specifically our culture here in the West to call evil evil. Isaiah, some 2,700 years ago warned Israel and us of this, proclaiming:
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)
It is not that anyone has come out in defense of this as not evil but excuses are already pouring forth in abundance. Mental health issues, medication, and more are being blamed for this event. While those things may have contributed to the situation in which the act was carried out they do not excuse the act or Lanza from the evil he has done. Deep down a hesitancy to call this and other acts like this evil, regardless of amount and age of the victims, is a desire to excuse the evil within each and every one of us – a desire to ignore the problem all of us face.
You see, Lanza didn’t merely do something evil or sinful, he was evil at his core. The Bible does not say that we are sinners because we sin but that we sin because we are sinners. Jesus said, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person”(Matt 15:18-20). Lanza murdered because he was a murderer at heart. He did evil because his heart was evil. And this is true for all of us. We sin because our hearts are sinful from birth. We do evil and seek to excuse evil in others because our hearts are evil. The difficulty of affirming this heinous act as evil is that in doing so we are affirm the problem we all face: evil/sinful hearts. But if we are to be honest before a the world and before one another we must affirm this act as evil, as a transgression against the God who created us each in His image.
Mention evil and questions arise. What is evil? Where did it come from? If there is a God why did and does he allow it? Again, numerous answers have been given. Some have been helpful and others merely ignore the reality that we face as human beings – we live in a world saturated with evil. As mentioned above, evil is personal because it resides within each of us. But for some this is unsatisfying. “Well didn’t God create us this way or couldn’t he have stopped it from happening?”, they ask, seeking to accuse anyone but themselves and affirm their own heart problem. But God is not bothered by questions for he spoken and he has answered the question of sin and suffering in the world. His answer was Christmas. Sound strange? Maybe it does if you haven’t thought about Christmas this way before, but it is God’s solution to sin, suffering, evil and our heart problem. Unlike Eastern religions, God did not, nor does he have us, ignore evil, sin, and suffering in the world. And unlike all other religions besides Christianity, God does not look to us to overcome those things through a list of rules, regulations, and rites to perform. Instead, the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, came.
The Word, being God, became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. He was tempted in all ways like we are yet without sin. He lived in perfect obedience to his Father fulfilling all righteousness. He suffered betrayal, loss, hunger, thirst, great pain, and even death on the cross. As Peter Kreeft has stated, “God’s answer to the problem of suffering is that he came right down into it. Many Christians try to get God off the hook for suffering; God put himself on the hook, so to speak – on the cross.”
In his sovereign love, God became a man, in the person of Jesus Christ, submitted himself to the pains or evils of this world, and died on a cross in the place of sinners, suffering the wrath of God and the evil of man. But that was not the end of the story. Three days later Jesus resurrected, defeating death, so that we would experience life as God intended. What was the greatest evil ever committed was ordained by God to bring about the greatest possible good – the defeat of evil, sin, and our heart problem.
This leads us to the third way we can respond biblically to this awful occasion: by God’s grace, believe in Jesus Christ as God come in the flesh, who fulfilled all righteousness on your behalf that you might be reconciled to God, who died that your sin debt might be cancelled, and who rose that you might have new life, a new heart, and fellowship with him for eternity. Evil is real and our hearts bear witness of its existence, but it is not without an answer. God has spoken and answered the problem of evil and of our hearts with Christmas. As Tim Keller wrote, “If we embrace the Christian teaching that Jesus is God and that he went to the Cross, then we have deep consolation and strength to face the brutal realities of life on earth. We can know that God is truly Immanuel – God with us – even in our worst sufferings.”
Lastly, a fourth way we can biblically respond to this evil and other in the world is hope. Two things are wrapped up in the hope for God’s people. First, there is the hope, or better yet, a guarantee of the consummation of all things. From before the foundation of the world, God set forth a plan to unite all things in Christ, redeem a people for himself, and dwell with them forever in glory. There are two major aspects to this consummation: resurrection and restoration. Referring to resurrection, Paul, in Romans 8:24-25, writes, “For in this hope (the redemption of our bodies – v 23) we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” This hope of resurrection is not wishful thinking but guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 2 Corinthians 4:14 declares, “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” In the end, with Christ’s return, all the dead shall be raised and given new bodies, like Christ’s resurrected body. We will be like him. The purpose of our redemption will have been fulfilled.
This leads to the next aspect of the consummation: restoration. When Christ returns he will make all things new. It is already begun in the hearts and lives of all who have faith but will one day be completed. This is a great hope indeed. Listen to how the Apostle John describes that day:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:1-4)
Evil, sin, suffering, and death will be no more. Oh, what a glorious day that will be! Christ has overcome! As the apostle says, even now “Come, Lord Jesus!” With these two aspects together, Keller writes, “The Biblical view of things is resurrection – not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.”
The second thing wrapped up in our hope is judgment. You see, God is just, holy, and righteous and will by no means clear the guilty. While he does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, his justice and holiness demands judgment and wrath. Even in the fallen state of sin, our hearts bear witness to this. When evil strikes we demand justice. When we are sinned against we cry out for judgment to reign down. While there are levels of judgment and penalty given to man by God, ultimate justice is His alone. Paul writes, “ Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:17-19). This is a great comfort to many as evil has been committed against them and others and has gone unpunished in this world, but God has not been blind to this and he will bring justice on all evil and sin. Judgment and justice escaped in this life does not negate it before God, it only ensures it. But this is only comforting if it is not you who will be judged. You see, God has and will judge and punish all sin in one of two ways: either in Christ by his sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross or by punishing the sinner for eternity in hell. If you have repented of your sin and turned to Christ by faith, your sin debt has been satisfied in Him but if you have not come to know Jesus by grace through faith, as John says, the wrath of God remains on you (John 3:36).
Now and in the end, our great hope and comfort is this:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
This is the hope in the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. And for those that do not know Him:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent (and believe in Christ), because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31 ESV)