It is with a bit of fear and trepidation that I write this month’s article. I cannot begin to truly imagine the thoughts and emotions of those who have been so greatly affected by the losses experienced during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and its aftermath. The classmates, teachers, and administrators, the first responders, the parents and siblings, and the community who knew any of the victims experienced the darkness of a sin-impacted world in such marked relief that they will be undoubtedly changed in such profound ways that their psyche and the world around them will never quite be the same. What was once a common experience will be re-written on their souls so that sounds, scents, and sirens will take them back to a day and its events they wish would never have happened, and while they try to forget and move on and have a life that was “normal,” they will have forever been changed. Their sense of safety and security will have been eroded. Their trust of those around them will be marked by a questioning sense of suspicion and a greater alertness to the possible dangers around them. For many, fear will haunt them and move them to be withdrawn or over-protective of themselves and of those they love. The sound of church bells will ring a different memory. Funerals will take them back to the many they attended and the deep grief they felt or observed. Many will be the reflections on the happenings on that day and on the days that followed.
According to StopTheShootings.org, 386 school shootings have occurred since 1992. Children, ages 5-14, in America are thirteen times more likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries. Rightly so, questions have been raised as to what we can do to stop the violence and the murder of children. Some have called for the elimination of assault weapons and of the magazines that feed so many bullets into them. Others have called for better treatment of mental health patients and better sharing of pertinent information so that it would surface in background checks and, hopefully, to eliminate the sale of arms to those whose judgment is or might be impaired and who could possibly lack the discernment necessary to not bring harm to themselves or to others. By the time you read this article, perhaps other proposed solutions will be offered. The NRA has offered to contribute to help prevent the violence, and gun enthusiasts are saying that guns are not the problem but that the people who use them are. Some are clamoring for the right to defend themselves and to have whatever guns at their disposal they so choose in order to do so. They argue that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution preserved the right to bear arms without restraint. Others claim that the safety rights of a free society preclude the right of its citizens to bear such “weapons of mass destruction,” and so they are calling for a ban on the sale of such weapons, and some go so far as to call for their confiscation. The issues and the solutions to them, from a human perspective are difficult to solve, and the ramifications for all concerned are much more complex than they are simple. We must be in prayer that our great God will move our legislators to His just and fair solutions. They will be the recipients of a myriad of voices. Many will be self-serving and obstinate, intolerant of any views but their own. Others will be guided by God’s voice and the tempered voice of reason, seeing the pro’s and con’s of each point and the broader implications of each proposal. Our legislators will need the wisdom of Solomon to arrive at reasonable answer, and even that answer will not make everyone happy, nor will it stop the shootings or the murdering and maiming of undeserving and unsuspecting victims.
The problem in our society that such shootings surface is not something that pertains directly to mental health, to multi-cartridge-loaded magazines, or to assault weapons and pistols. At its core, the problem is rooted in a condition we brought upon ourselves when our first parents took it upon themselves to disobey the sovereign rule of God in their lives, namely, sin entered into the world, and not only spiritual death (separation from God) along with it, but also physical death to manifest in the visible world its hidden, immaterial reality in the unseen spiritual world. Shortly after sin brought about the knowledge of good and evil, evil manifested itself. At first, it seemed innocuous enough. While God had created a world in which a man and a woman could be naked and not ashamed, after sin came, they were conscious of themselves in a different light and made coverings for themselves. We don’t know what thoughts filled their minds as they had these realizations and offered their solution, but a sin-impacted world brought changes. It was not long before one of their sons, a farmer named Cain, rose up against his brother, a shepherd named Abel, and the first vicious murder took place. A careful study of the Scriptures will show brutal acts that subsequently occurred, even dismemberment and distribution of those body parts throughout Israel. Sin brought with it a change in our nature such that our unseen nature that was sinfully manifested through acts that our body did brought about constant displays called the deeds of the flesh delineated in summary fashion as immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissentions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these [which would include unnamed things like murder] (Galatians 5:19-21). Sin also impacted our human condition such that disease (physical and mental) entered our world along with birth defects. Demonic influence brought about “doctrines of demons” where satanic lies were substituted in our minds for the truth of God and where the worship of the created things replaced the worship of the one true God. Wars between tribes and nations arose in a world where once, in God’s perfect design, peace reigned.
The solution to the sin problem is found in turning to God in broken repentance for our sin, individually and as a nation. One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (i.e., Master and God) to the glory of the Father. One by one, each person must come to God and respond to Christ, and he or she will in faith or in disbelief. We do not have control over what each person will do, but we do have control over whether or not we come to the place where we trust Christ’s death in our place and His resurrection as the basis for our forgiveness for our sin and the removal of our sin penalty by receiving His payment for our sin, and we do have control over whether or not we live lives that lend credibility by both our love for the lost – for those caught in sin’s tentacles – such that our attitudes, words, and actions lend credibility to Christ’s claims and validating work as we offer the ultimate solution – the Good News of Jesus Christ – to all who will listen and who will, hopefully, believe sooner rather than later. Then, the possibility of a real solution takes place to the violence in our society, and Christ changes each person one by one.
When a person accepts Christ as his or her Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his or her life to empower that person to live, no longer in sin or for their own sin-impacted purposes, but as a voluntary slave to His righteousness, doing so as an act of worship for His glory. The Spirit bears His own fruit in that person’s lives markedly different from the deeds of the flesh, and that fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). I suspect this list is not complete but is representative of even more good that He produces in our lives. What a difference the Holy Spirit makes in a life compared to the flesh manifesting itself in a murderous rampage.
To be sure, as we make our best effort to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, there will always be those motivated by fleshly impulses who have bought into demonically-inspired lies in contradiction to God’s revealed truth who will seek to harm us. They will seek to malign us, to intimidate us, to press us into conformity with their twisted frame of reference. The Apostle Peter reminds us that they will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Pet. 4:6).
So what is our task? Peter says that we are to view ourselves as aliens and strangers (i.e., as someone whose allegiance is to another nation, God’s kingdom with its Divine Ruler and its Divine laws, and as someone who is a temporary visitor here on earth. He admonishes us to keep our behavior excellent (by God’s definition of excellent) among the unbelieving population so that “in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may, because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (i.e., when Christ returns to take us to be with Him) (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Being good, however is not just a behavioral performance. Being good is the natural outflow of the quality of one’s relationship with Christ who gave us a tremendous model and example of righteous behavior in the midst of great persecution and suffering. Peter wrote about this natural outflow in this manner:
One day (and I believe that it will be very soon), there will be no more death and no more sickness and no more tears. We will live in a world where there is no curse, where God and the Lamb are its light, where memories of this world as we have known it will be no more, and where we will enjoy the sweet fellowship with God and with each other that is that “abundant life” Jesus came that we might enjoy so very long ago. Until then, let us exercise the control we have in the power of the Holy Spirit to live rightly in a sin-impacted world. We know the God who is the world’s best hope for change and for the solution to the evil in our world, and we are His ambassadors whom He has sent to tell them. Any other solution, while possibly very important, pales in significance to The Solution we have in Christ!