Some people are rushing to analyze the events and to urge solutions to the frightening problem of mass murders, which recently have been occurring with terrifying frequency in our country. To me, much of what they say feels opportunistic and disrespectful to those who have suffered loss. Those who are already clamoring for action may well have good intentions, but it feels like they have an agenda that is more important to them than the pain of those who are grieving. Having been through the loss of a child, though not in such a horrific way, I know that what is needed at this moment is for our nation just to weep with those who are weeping. What the mourners need right now is to know that their loss matters to us, that our entire nation grieves with them. President Obama struck the right note in his speech at Newtown when he told those grieving people that they are not alone in their sorrow, that all across the nation people are weeping with them.
But even as I say that my heart sinks. It does so for a couple of reasons. One is that I fear the proposed “solutions” will not address the heart of the problem. In his speech the President said “we must change.” I believe he is right, but I’m pretty sure that whatever changes our leaders come up with might well miss the point. There was a time in our culture when things like this hardly ever happened. That is important to consider. Something fundamental has shifted in our culture, and I believe some of the consequences of that shift are now being experienced. There are some suggested changes that will be bandied about having to do with gun control and treatment of people with mental health issues. Some of those ideas might well help reduce the frequency and severity of these kinds of tragedies. But in the end I suspect the change that is needed goes deeper than that.
Our society now pursues and even exalts personal gratification and “fulfillment” as the ultimate good. By putting faith in the narrative of human origins and existence as a function of nothing more than material forces and random chance it has removed any real basis for morality. With no God to answer to and no meaning for life there is no motivation for anything other than doing whatever feels good. Self is now the ruling good in every decision. With that has come the breakdown of the family producing deeply wounded and angry people. The very fabric of our society appears to be fraying. How can we expect anyone to have respect for the dignity and value of the lives of others when our culture promotes the sacrifice of millions of innocent unborn children’s lives on the altar of selfish interest and selfish gratification? Yes, we need to do all we can to try to stop the random killing sprees that have been happening. But it seems to me a much deeper change is needed in our culture if there is to be any hope of seeing these things cease. There needs to be a change of heart, ultimately a humbling of our national consciousness before God. Though it would be unpopular I long to hear political leaders calling our nation to that very end. I’m not going to hold my breath until that happens, but I can and will pray for such national change of heart and mind.
The second reason my heart sinks as I think about the President’s statement that these things must end is that we live in a fallen world. Evil exists in this world. It always has and it always will. Horrifying, brutal massacres of innocent people, including children, have happened over and over in human history. Perhaps our political leaders can create strategies and laws that will bring random “spree” killings like Newtown to an end in America. Perhaps somehow our country will turn and see a need to heed God’s truth and will turn in a better direction. But even if those unlikely outcomes were to occur in America, brutality and inhumanity would continue in the world around us. Children continue to be brutalized and even killed by the thousands in parts of Africa. Are those children any less precious than our kids in America? We all long for this world to be safe for children. We should ever strive to that end, but we also know that is a dream we will never completely fulfill.
The carol O Holy Night in speaking of the “dear Savior’s birth” says, “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” Indeed, this is a weary world. We are weary of cruelty, of inhumanity, of the insanity and devastating tragedy of a young man senselessly gunning down innocent children. We are weary of evil in its many manifestations. But for this weary world there is a thrill of hope. That hope is not that finally we will fix all these problems and this world will be as we wish it were. The hope is that Jesus, the Savior, has come. He has entered this broken, suffering world to share the pain with us, to die for us that we might live. He has given hope of a “new and glorious morn,” the dawn of new life that is eternal. Ultimately the uncertainty and the evil of this world reminds us that we desperately need a hope that is beyond this world. We need the hope of that world where evil is finally and forever vanquished. Jesus has come and defeated evil. He has purchased for us eternal life in that world where evil is no more, and in the end that is our true hope.