Mass Killings and the Question of Evil

Two mass shootings have rocked the nation in the past month alone. One of them occurred right here in the Atlanta area that I love and call home. This isn’t a news story, it’s not my intention to give details or sensationalize the killings. Understandably, America always waits with bated breath for any details that might clarify the reasons behind a shooter’s sickening actions. Sadly, knowing a killer’s motivations (regardless of what they are) will be of no solace to those who have lost a loved one to senseless killing. Justifiably, the watching world craves some level of understanding going forward. One thing is sure, nothing discovered will produce any satisfying revelations. By assessing motives, we desperately hope to discover an inoculation from individual acts of evil. Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.

Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.

Pure Evil Can’t Be Intimidated

Undoubtedly, consequences (legal and otherwise) intimidate many people into submission. However, threatened social consequences are only preemptively impactful to a certain point. Obviously, suicide bombers can’t be intimidated by the loss of life over their actions. They give their lives willingly in the service of evil. Neither can a suicidal killer with hatred in his heart be thwarted by any punitive measures. A homicidal heart will find a way to commit murder regardless of the actions civil society takes. Please don’t misunderstand; we should take preventative measures when and where possible. It would be ludicrous for polite society to conclude that because rape can’t be totally eradicated, we shouldn’t make every effort humanly possible to prevent and punish rape. Indeed, the same goes for murder, whether it be mass murder or homicide in general.

Mass Shootings: A Modern Problem

Mass killings are a relatively new social manifestation of evil. While every society from the beginning of time (going all the way back to the biblical account of Genesis) has suffered the scourge of violence and homicidal hatred, the particularly heinous rise of senseless mass murder is a distinctively modern problem. Since the dawn of so-called civilization, governments and power-hungry tyrants have slaughtered more innocents than historians can count. But otherwise, average individuals killing innocent people they don’t even know (or barely know) en masse is terrifyingly unique. The level of hatred required for this nightmarish breed of viciousness defies comprehension. Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.

Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.

The Origin of Evil

Evil is evil, and while individuals are responsible for their own actions, evil does not originate in the human psyche. It is always easier to relegate every depraved human action down to mental illness or madness. While mental illness is undoubtedly a real problem, not all (or even most) mentally ill individuals commit horrific crimes. Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not. We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.

Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not.

We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.

Out of the Shadows

Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint. We can’t look directly at it without excruciating pain. It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them. Like the prophets of old, those who do notice and comment are labeled depressing, downers, boorish, buzz killers, alarmists, catastrophists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized. So, we hunger for the elusive why behind the “madness.” Some point the finger of blame at God in these circumstances (here’s a great article on the origins of evil). But ultimately, evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.

Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint.

It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them.

Like prophets of old, those who notice evil are labeled depressing, downers, buzz killers, alarmists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized.

Evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.

Because the fallen nature of humankind is vulnerable and consistently capable of awful behavior, Jesus instructed us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil… (Matthew 6:13).” I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while simultaneously claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about events like mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity. Facing the depravity of the human condition head-on is depressing and hard to grasp. The human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). C.H. Spurgeon wrote:

“As the salt flavors, every drop in the Atlantic so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” He added: “The venom of sin is in the very fountain of our being; it has poisoned our heart. It is in the very marrow of our bones and is as natural to us as anything that belongs to us.”

I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity.

The Bad News and the Good News

We inherited that sinful nature from the lineage of Adam (Romans 5:12). You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption. In the weeks and months ahead, I have decided to write, podcast, preach and teach about the Gospel. If you’re reading this and you feel hopeless, please know there is hope. If you’re reading this and you know someone who feels hopeless, please tell them about Jesus. Tell them how God wants to forgive their sins and fill them with His Spirit (Acts 2:38). Tell them how the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can raise them above the hopelessness of sin (Romans 8:11). We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.

You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news.

Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption.

We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.

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Link to the David French Article Mentioned in the Podcast

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

My brother, Nathan French, hosts an outstanding podcast called Noteworthy (click that link to listen to the episode Should Christians Celebrate Holloween?). You can easily find it on your favorite podcasting platform. The latest episode is something I believe everyone should listen to with an open heart and mind.

The Idolatry of the ‘Perfect’ Past

Some of you may be tiring of my incessant Screwtape inspired ramblings, and you are forgiven for those feelings. But allow this one last dalliance through The Screwtape Letters and the creative genius of C.S. Lewis. I’m pulling my thoughts from letter seventeen where the sly demon Screwtape describes an elderly woman who is manipulated by a demon named Glubose. Screwtape mischievously writes:

“The woman is in what may be called the ‘All-I-Want’ state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servants or any friend who can do these things ‘properly’—because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatable pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as ‘the days when you could get good servants’ but known only to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled.”

Lewis imaginatively strikes upon the demonic tactic of encouraging humans to idolize the past and trivialize the present, which jeopardizes the future. I call it the idolatry of the perfect past. This can be actualized in dozens of little ways. For some, it is manifested as a longing for a better time that actually never existed. We, humans, have a tendency to remember things through the fuzzy lens of what we wish they had been. This often obscures the painful realities of the distant past and ignores the fact that we too have changed. If you don’t believe me, imagine living without heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Undoubtedly, some things were better in the past, but they certainly were not perfect. Furthermore, different doesn’t always equal bad in the same way that new doesn’t always equal better. In essence, what we call perfection is usually a preference or a philosophical proposition. And there’s nothing wrong with having preferences unless our preferences become an idol.

Lewis speaks of an elderly woman who can’t enjoy food or fellowship because she perceives that nothing is prepared as perfectly as it was in the ‘good old days’. This may or may not have been the case. But her sin had nothing to do with her preferences, she had a right to those opinions up to a point. Rather, her sin was realized in the resulting mistreatment of the people around her due to her displeasure with the present. In other words, her idol made her ‘ill-tempered’. Beyond that, idolatry had blocked her vision so effectively she was incapable of recognizing the good or even—dare I say—the better things of the present.

Nasty temperament is the primary way you can tell that a preference has become an idol. Let’s take this discussion to church for just a moment: If you can’t worship in a service because your favorite song from yesteryear wasn’t featured you’ve probably turned the past into an idol. And, if it makes you mad and ill-tempered check your spiritual temperature because you have a fever. And, if you just threw your computer across the room its time to pray through. Now, having said that, you might be right! The new song you don’t like might not be as good as the old song you do like. We all have preferences, partialities aren’t the problem. However, if we can’t enjoy the good things or —dare I say—the less good things of the present because of the past we are in serious trouble.

I feel compelled to pause and state clearly that I love many things from my past. I even love things that predate my lifespan by hundreds of years. For those of you who might be wondering, I am not a hymn hater. In fact, I’m an old soul. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I have all kinds of preferences that go unmet on a regular basis, in and out of church settings. Let’s be honest, my preferences are better than your preferences. I’m just kidding. The point being, I’ve learned not to elevate my preferences above unity and personal relationships. The only exception to this rule is when my preferences are properly aligned with God’s Word and someone else’s preferences violate Scripture.

Let’s stir the pot and complicate the conversation for a moment: there are other similar types of idolatry that are equally dangerous. Brad Titus capably identifies one as The Idolatry of the Future. In this variation, peace can never be found in the present because something better is always in the future.

There is yet another variant, I call it the ‘idolatry of the present’. This mindset idolizes the new, the current, the ‘latest thing’ above all else. It marginalizes the past and robs the future of the depth and richness that can only be found in a healthy reverence for the good things of the past.

Young people who carry this idol exacerbate ‘the idolatry of the past’ within the hearts of elders. Their derision for the ‘old fashioned’ inflames reactionary passions. Meanwhile, those suffering under the miserable weight of ‘future idolatry’ sit around and long for better days that always seem just out of reach.

As you can see, disunity and strife are the real demonic agendas behind these three particular brands of idolatry. When saints elevate petty preferences above maintaining right relationships with people; churches become war zones rather than houses of worship. And, when people idolize what lies ahead nothing of value is accomplished in the present.

We smash these idols by honoring the past, celebrating the present, and embracing the future. This can be done. It must be done for the sake of unity and revival. Thriving churches honor the past without living there, celebrate new things that are good, and intentionally prepare for the future. 

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).”

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Royal veins flow through my blood. It pumps and drips and falls and floods. Like a saga, it journeys on never stopping to hear the song. And if I could quiet the noise in my ears the melody could take me far away from here, and every mistake, every twisted trace. But for now, this throbbing pain is all through my brain, it fills my thoughts like a sinful stain, it melts my heart without a trace.

The ache is real but the hurt is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

Would you do more if you could see your fears like tangible things springing into your atmosphere? Or would you cower into the shadows like an overgrown child running from faith like it was out of style? These are the questions we ask when we have too much time, too much space, and too much at stake.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away

Twisting grace has become the norm for some and now everyone’s soul is on the run. Every turn brings a brand new pain and every valley leads into a deeper place. Until mountains are dimly lit memories from another space, and time that won’t return, until we learn to turn back to the Son that saved us all with blood, and nails, and wood, and grace. We forgot that place as we traveled along never stopping to sing the song.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

And away they’ll go if I can keep the faith, walk in the light and not the gray. But strange voices pull and they tug, nameless faces call my name from dimly lit places on every lane. The strain is strong as I pull away back into the light of day.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

Twisting grace has become the norm for some and now everyone’s soul is on the run. Every turn brings a brand new pain and every valley leads into a deeper place.