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.

Podcast

YouTubeApple PodcastsAnchorBreakerOvercastPocketCastsRadio PublicSpotify

Link to the David French Article Mentioned in the Podcast

Unmasked (Cogent COVID Thoughts)

COVID has revealed tons of things, both good and bad, that need to be considered as we move into the future. The following cogent COVID thoughts have been swirling around in my brain for several months. I’m making a conscious effort to only mention things that will be relevant even after the virus itself is gone.

Unmasked: Our Religious Freedoms Are in Jeopardy

2019 seems like the distant past, but somehow, I can vaguely recall certain things that happened way back in the good old pre-COVID days. A particular memory keeps pushing its way to the forefront of my brain; it’s a conversation I overheard between two friends. Friend number one commented about the world’s increasing hostility towards the Church and his concerns about maintaining our freedoms. Friend number two considered this to be the silliest viewpoint a modern Christian could hold. He accused friend number one of nursing a persecution complex. I agreed with friend number one. There was an awkward silence and we all just agreed to disagree.

Today we have churches fighting their state government and the United States government for the right to simply have church. Startling numbers of churches are permanently closing their doors. And, pastors have been fined, harassed, and incarcerated for failing to comply with shutdown mandates. We are seeing the single greatest onslaught against religious freedoms in the history of the United States. COVID unmasked the animosity towards Christianity walking the halls of power at the state and federal levels. The waters are being tested and a stronger wave of discriminatory action towards Christianity is just around the corner.

This unmasking is probably for the best. Maybe it will shake some of us out of our naiveite and call us back to effectual fervent prayer (James 5:16). But one thing is for sure, antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms. And for the non-religious folks out there, my freedom to worship won’t be the only freedom taken. They’ll come for something you care about eventually. If you dance with the devil long enough you will get burned.

“…antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms.”

I’m not trying to stoke fears or be negative. I believe this is a great opportunity for the Church to reach the world with the Gospel. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14)”. We usually think of this as a challenge to let our light shine as bright as possible, and that’s fine. We say things like don’t hide your light. However, Jesus compared the Church to a city set on a hill that “cannot” be hidden. That word “cannot” is translated into English from two Greek words, ou and dynatai, which means …does not have the ability. We could accurately translate that verse to say, “You are the light of the world. A city placed by God on a hill that does not have the ability to be hidden”. The Church is purposefully designed and carefully crafted by God to be set apart (that’s what holiness means) and brightly shining into the darkness. The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world. So, as the world gets scarier the light of the Church will draw hungry hearts to itself as never before.

The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world.

Unmasked: Christian Hypocrisies

My dad (Dr. Talmadge French) made a comment last night during midweek Bible study that is startlingly true: Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor. Taking that thought even further, I’ve noticed throughout this pandemic how quickly we all allowed government officials to have absolute authority over us. Officials told us to wear masks and we all went out and bought masks. They told us to close businesses and stay home and we did. They told us to stay away from people and we did. They told us not to touch people and we did what they told us to do. They told our kids to stay home from school and learn online and they did (my kids still do). They told sports to shut down and they did. It drastically impacted our dress codes, our vacations, our social lives, our finances, and our education.

Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor.” -Dr. Talmadge French

Why did we fall in line so quickly? We fell in line (almost universally with a few exceptions) even when the “experts” disagreed. We fell in line even though the facts were (and are) difficult to decipher. We made great personal sacrifices. For some people, it will take them years to recover and some will never fully recover. I believe we did it because we perceived those sacrifices as being a greater good than the pain. We sensed the urgency and we pulled together. Perhaps some operated from raw fear, but even that fear wasn’t pure selfishness, it was born out of concern for others as well.

I’ve watched people faithfully wear masks and stay indoors for months who have never allowed their pastor to have any real influence in their lives. COVID unmasked a barren wasteland of hypocrisy in many professing Christians. They make all types of excuses for why they won’t listen to their pastor: He’s too intrusive, too cautious, too demanding, too blah blah blah. The reality is they are more than willing to comply when they think the stakes are high. They just don’t think biblical issues are that important. They don’t really consider sin as important or judgment as immanent. Furthermore, they do believe in authority they just don’t want godly authority.

Unmasked: A Realistic Path to a One-World Government

Prophecy pundits typically point to nuclear warfare or some type of World War III scenario as the catalyst which will bring the world under one global government (Revelation 13:1-18, Revelation 17:13, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-17). While possible, there wouldn’t be much left to govern after massive nuclear strikes around the world. However, this pandemic unmasked how easy it would be for a full-blown epidemic to usher in a one-world government. I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.

I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.

Think of the panic if people were dropping dead in the streets of an unknown and incurable virally transmitted disease. What if one government magically had the cure and would only give it to people who surrendered unconditionally to their authority? This virus could be manmade or not, it doesn’t matter because the opportunity for dominance could be leveraged either way. Even now it isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17). COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.

It isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17).

COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.

Unmasked: Disregard for Localized Pastoral Leadership

In many ways, the foundations of biblical Church government and the United States government are similar. And, that isn’t by accident, the founders modeled the Bible in numerous ways when crafting the Constitution. For example, individual states were originally intended to be autonomous yet governed and united by the Constitution. The federal government was limited and designed to have minimal interference in the affairs of local governments. Similarly, the Early Church was designed to be locally governed by pastors who were united by adherence to the Holy Word of God. Christ remained the head of the Church while bishops only intervened in local church matters when the Word was being disregarded. Biblically sound apostolic organizations follow this paradigm. Pastors are given leeway to govern their local flock as long as they remain doctrinally sound and morally pure. Most decisions are best made by local leadership because they are connected to the specific personalized needs of their congregations.  

So, COVID hit and local pastors were forced to make tough calls without any precedence to lean on. They were deluged with lots of convoluted “facts” being thrown at them from every direction. Some pastors closed down their gatherings and some remain closed. Some waited a little longer than others to close in-person gatherings. A very small number of pastors never closed at all. Some are fighting to reopen. Some did outdoor services, and zoom, and Facebook meetings, and anything else they could do to keep a sense of connectedness. In other words, local pastors did the best they could do for their flocks. They prayed, agonized, sought wise counsel, researched, and listened to the needs of the saints. The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.

The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.

Yet, regardless of what decisions local pastors made they were met with unrelenting condemnation at every turn. Facebook “pastors” went completely nuts commenting and criticizing from the comfort of their sideline seats. Pastors clashed with pastors over “right” pandemic protocols. Saints defended their pastor’s decisions by attacking other pastors’ decisions. Or worse, some saints threw their pastor under the bus and sided with a pastor who doesn’t even know their name. I expected worldly cultural commentators to aim their blistering attacks on church leaders, but I admit the infighting took me off guard.

The lack of civility, respect, charity, grace, and dignity in these public disagreements is deeply disturbing. But setting that aside, the complete disregard and disrespect towards localized church government was the real shocker unmasked by COVID. Doesn’t it make sense that local pastors would take different approaches based on the needs and facts on the ground in their community? Wouldn’t we expect different churches to adopt various approaches based on their surroundings? Why would our way be the only way? Looking back, I think every honest pastor wishes they had done at least one thing differently. Zero people had all the right answers in 2020.

It would be helpful moving forward to reestablish the authority of local church leadership in a global, information-saturated world. Anyone with the slightest understanding of ministry understands real-world decisions are complex and vary from place to place. Rarely do cookie-cutter policies work properly in every church. Regardless, lets at least try to recognize in extremely difficult times that no one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor. Let’s give them some grace and trust they are seeking God for the flock He entrusted to them.

No one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor.

Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan explains how baptism without repentance is like being buried alive from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible. Ryan explains why definitions matter and how differing definitions cause people to miscommunicate the Gospel. Most importantly, Ryan explains the Gospel plan of salvation according to the Bible without the lenses of opinion, tradition, or dishonesty. Don't miss the powerful poetic rendition of PFR's classic song FIGHT. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight
  2. Ep. 20 | Mass Killings and the Question of Evil
  3. Ep. 19 | Support Your Local Pastor's Wife (She Desperately Needs It)
  4. Ep. 18 | Church Hurt Doesn't Excuse Backsliding & What Forgiveness Is Not
  5. Ep. 17 | Courage In Cancel Culture