The western world is reeling in horror once again as the reality of the recent Denver shooting sinks in. Lot's of questions are being asked and lots of outrage is being vented. As I am currently visiting the Scandinavian country of Denmark it has been intriguing to watch the angle taken on these events by the Danish media.
Comments of concern have been made regarding the way the American police and justice system have been treating the perpetrator of the crime. They seem to have great concern for the fact that his feet are shackled and the fashion persecution of wearing a prison jumpsuit in court. All his friends seemed to think he was a nice guy. Is he getting the right medication? Is he getting the best psychiatric treatment to ascertain his illness? This is the retarded psychobabble of a culture that thinks it is "advanced"!
I am reminded of this story recounted by the late Chuck Colson after a visit to the country of Norway:
I can’t help but think of a visit I made to a maximum-security prison outside of Oslo back in the 1980s. I tell this story in my book How Now Shall We Live? I was greeted by the warden, who was a psychiatrist. She gave me a tour of the place, which seemed more like a laboratory than a prison. We met so many other psychiatrists that I asked the warden how many of the inmates here were mental cases.
She replied, “All of them, of course.”
I was stunned. Really? “Well,” she said, “anyone who commits a violent crime is obviously mentally unbalanced.”
This was the ultimate expression of the therapeutic model. People, the reasoning goes, are basically good, so anyone who could do something so terrible as this must be mentally ill. And the solution is therapy. It is a tragically flawed and inaccurate view of human nature. And, as I learned just a few days later, a very dangerous one.
During that visit I preached the Gospel to the prisoners. They were completely numb to the message. But as I was leaving, a young correctional officer, a Christian, came up to me. She said she had prayed for someone to confront the prisoners with the message of sin and salvation. She was frustrated by the corrections system in Norway, where there was no concept of personal responsibility, and therefore no reason for prisoners to seek personal transformation.
Only days later, I learned the tragic news: The young officer I had met was assigned to escort an inmate out to see a movie as part of his therapy. On the way back to prison, he murdered her.
Theology matters in all spheres of life. None more so than in the Bible's assessment of the human condition. All men have taken on Adam's sinful nature and have a continual propensity to evil. It is more surprising how rare these mass murders are than how often they take place. The irony that atheists enjoy the relative comforts of ordered western civilization is not lost on me. They benefit from this all the while ignorantly unthankful for the fact that God has blessed this fallen world with civil government (fallible though it is) For all the shortcomings of western governments, they still generally enforce some sort of law and order that we might live peaceable lives. We should also be thankful for God's restraining grace that often limits the extent of evil that we could otherwise do.
But when the default shifts from all men being evil (biblical truth) to the unrealized goodness of all men through therapy (secular lie) this is what you get:
I will close with Al Mohler's insightful words on "Denver's Dark Night". It is a lengthy quote but it is too good to cut any shorter:
The same vexing but inescapable question comes every time a Columbine happens or an Anders Behring Breivik attempts to justify his mass homicide. How could such a thing happen? How could a human being do such a thing?
There is no easy answer to this question. The easy answers are never satisfying, and they are often based in the confused moral calculus of popular culture. We assume there must have been a political motivation, a psychiatric disturbance, a sociological pressure . . . anything that will offer a satisfying explanation that will assure us. Wave after wave of analysis is offered, and sometimes some horrifying clues emerge. But the moral madness of mass homicide can never be truly explained. Christians are driven by instinct to think in biblical and theological terms. But, how should that instinct be guided?
The Reality of Human Evil
First, Christians know that the human heart is capable of great evil. Human history includes a catalog of human horrors. The twentieth century, described by historian Eric Hobsbawm as the century of “megadeath,” included a list of names such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, and Charles Manson. But those murderers did their killing from a distance, at least usually. Those who carry out the murders themselves are even more haunting to us. The young man arrested in this case, 24-year-old James Holmes, looks disarmingly normal.
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]
Human beings are capable of unspeakable moral evil. We are shocked by such atrocities, but only because we have some distance from the last one. We cannot afford to be shocked when humans commit grotesque moral evil. It tells us the truth about unbridled human sin.
The Grace of Moral Restraint
Second, we must be thankful for restraints on moral evil. Christians must not underestimate the potential of any human being — ourselves included — to commit moral horror. We know ourselves to be sinners, and we know ourselves to be capable of sins we do not actually commit. Why do we not commit them?
God restrains human sinfulness. If the fullness of human sin was set loose, humanity would destroy itself. God restrains human evil by several means. First, he has created us in his image, and at least part of this image is what we call conscience. The moral conscience is a powerful restraint on human evil, and for this we must be exceedingly thankful. At the same time, the human conscience is also warped by the Fall and no longer fully trustworthy. We have developed the capacity to ignore the conscience, torture the conscience, and even misdirect the conscience by moral rationalization. Nevertheless, the restraint of the conscience is fundamental, and for that we must be very thankful.
God has also established institutions and orders that restrain human evil. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13, God gave us the institution of government in order to restrain evil and to punish the evildoer. He has also given us the institution of marriage and the family and the larger order of society in order to restrain evil. We are surrounded by a complex of laws and statutes and social expectations and civic associations. All these function to restrain evil.
At the foundation of these restraints is the fear of God, which, even in an increasingly secular society, still retains a more powerful force than is often acknowledged.
Evil Answered at the Cross
Third, we must admit that there will be no fully satisfying answer to these questions in this life. Christians know that God is sovereign, and that nothing is outside of his control. We also know that he allows evil to exist, and human beings to commit moral atrocities. We cannot allow the sovereignty of God to be denied and evil allowed its independent existence. Nor can we deny the reality of evil and the horror of its threat to be lessened. We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross.
Theologian Henri Blocher explains this truth vividly in these words:
“Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He entraps the deceiver in his own wiles. Evil, like a judoist, takes advantage of the power of good, which it perverts; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent.”
We must grieve with those who grieve. We must pray for Gospel churches in the Denver area who will be called upon for urgent ministry. We must pray for our nation and communities. And we must pray that God will guard ourselves from evil — especially our own evil. And we must point to the cross. What other answer can we give?