Several people have mentioned appreciation for the prayers that were offered on Sunday in the aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut. Schoolteachers and educators among us are especially moved as they consider the dear children they lead and care for every day. All of us try to make sense of such unspeakable actions against the most vulnerable among us.
As I think through this massacre from a biblical perspective, it is important not to dismiss the role that mental illness may play in some of these crimes. I knew one person personally who was shot to death by someone mentally imbalanced. The crime was certainly brought on by a confused ability to think objectively about the reality he perceived and his response to it. I’ve also known very nice people whose personalities turned mean through the onset of dementia. One long-time neighbor became so mean it was like he was a different person – all because of his growing dementia. So we can’t discount the role extreme mental illness may play in some of the violence.
That being said, the Scriptures provide a deeper reason for mankind’s penchant for violence – our alienation from God which results in selfish desires and violent means to obtain what we want. James speaks so clearly to this in chapter 4, verses 1-4 of which I quote a portion.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what yet get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
A former state governor who is a believer was asked why God would allow something like the Connecticut shooting to happen. He responded that America has systematically been removing God from public and private life for years. Then when something like this happens people ask where God is? God is in the same place we left Him, and the fault is ours if by leaving Him we also left His influence that alone can turn us from selfish violence. James continues in vv. 8-10.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
In light of these admonitions from the heart of God there are several things we should do. One is to pray that these very sad tragedies that shock us all will lead to the very grieving over sin that James says is essential for a return to God. Two is to search our own hearts for malice, anger, envy or hate that may lead us to evil thoughts and actions against others. Sometimes the smartest, most well-adjusted people commit the gravest crimes because they harbored these sins. Three is to pray that those who have suffered such deep loss will understand that God wants to draw near to them. It is never Him who has withdrawn from us, but it is us who have withdrawn from Him. He is ever ready to welcome us home to His comfort if we return to Him.
Sincerely, grieving for America, Pastor Brian