“Sardonic” is the word that inadequately describes the events of this year’s second day of Christmas, December 14th, 2012. As the classic Christmas song says, true love’s gift was two turtle doves.
Historically the dove represents the peace. France, Germany, Ireland, and Australia and other nations have minted coins with the image of a dove sometimes with an olive branch. This image hearkens back to the biblical account of Noah’s Ark when Noah sent a dove to see whether the land was suitable for for life after God destroyed the whole Earth with a flood. That dove returned with a green olive branch revealing not only that the land was safe, but that new life had returned, God’s anger had subsided, and there was peace between man and God again, albeit a temporary peace. The turtle dove (streptopelia turtur) is among the few of natures creatures that mate for life. In most cases when one dove dies, the other will live the rest of its life in solitude, and often follows in death shortly after its mate for sorrow of the loss. This attribute has been used in prose and poetry for several hundred years to tell of the longing and desire between people in love. A pair of turtle doves thus represents the peace that the whole world groans for and love’s longing for communion between the closest of friends. What a thing to do on a day when we should have been left to consider peace and love.
I am on the end of the curve of people who have commented on what happened last Friday, but here are a few points of though that have come out of the interactions I have had on the subject.
1. There is Rejoicing in the Sadness
Virtually no one would disagree that Friday’s events were horrific. The most heinous crimes seem insignificant when we think of 5 and 6 year old children who have barely begun life cut off from it so quickly and mercilessly. It is even more saddening for the parents of those children who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, because their belief systems deny even their beloved child any certainty of a better place or end of suffering. Some will hold that their children simply ceased to exist or that their fates cannot be known. But the Bible points clearly to the salvation of these children. The implications in John 9:41 and Psalm 22:9-10 indicate God’s prenatal election, and Romans 1:20 clearly states that it is only those who have had the opportunity to see God though what has been made who are “…without excuse.” Thus a child without the ability to trace the wonders of Creation back to the Creator do have an excuse and cannot be condemned. This means that at this moment there are 20 children rejoicing around the throne of Christ without pain or tears. Furthermore, they are bearing witness and giving their affirmation to the justice of God against their antagonist. In heaven there are no tears for the punishment of what is evil, because the population of heaven is fully caught up in the glories of God Himself. It is different for us here and now. We see “in part,” so we mourn for every lost person. But in heaven we will not morn for them. In heaven justice is served and God is even more glorious for it.
2. We must be careful with blame.
When atrocities cause us, or those we care for, pain it is completely natural and instinctual to ask at least two questions: “how did this happen?” and “how can I make sure it never happens again?” These questions should be asked. The need to be asked. But the answers we come up with will be, in large part, the determiners of our future. Many would like to blame guns. Many would like to blame mental illness. Some would even like to blame school security. All these things could make an impact. I would like to address these three issues separately, but begin with the main point: there is no one to blame except Adam Lanza. He picked up the gun, pointed it at his mother and pulled the trigger knowing what guns do and knowing who his mother was, he pulled the trigger and committed murder. And then he went to the school and did it 25 more times before pointing the gun at himself and pulling the trigger. The last line of defense against this type of crime is not gun control, treatments for mental illness or school security. The last line of defense is a person’s willingness to obey God’s 7th commandment and not commit murder because it is wrong. Adam failed to do so.
In regards to gun control, it would be caustically insensitive to take a cavalier “just goes to show you what happens when you regulate guns!” approach and it would be just as insensitive to say “just goes to show you what happens when you let anyone have a gun!” Regulation/deregulation of guns did not cause Adam Lanza to murder 26 people, rather his conscious decision to murder them did. Cases have been cited… Min Yingjun in China wielded a knife in a school and severely injured 22 children and a teacher; the Pearl River, MS shooting where another disturbed young man entered a school and the gun carrying principal ended the attack before it became a catastrophe. Guns are tools in the hands of their users, and will be used for whatever purposes their owners see fit (and when I say “owners” I mean the person holding the gun, not necessarily the person listed on its registration). Adam Lanza could have killed without a gun. He could have systematically stabbed 26 people to death. He also could have killed with a bomb made from household cleaning supplies that he learned to build from a YouTube video and we might have been mourning the deaths of every student and teacher in that school. What we do to stop this kind of attack should not begin or end with guns, because guns are not the beginning or the ending of the problem. Human wickedness is. We can choose to deal with human wickedness by hiding behind the police, metal detectors, aggression suppressing drugs, and legislation, or we can hope for the best (maintaining our freedoms, and not living in fear) while preparing for the worst (arming ourselves and our teachers with the tools, and maybe even the guns, to protect our kids).
I am not a mental illness professional, nor do I claim to have any special insight into the mind of Adam Lanza, his mother, his brother, or anyone at the scene the Newtown shootings. It does strike me as inexplicable how a man with a history of violence and mental instability was not paid closer attention. I cannot place blame on Lanza’s mother for the mental disturbance that lead him to kill, but if anyone knew his capacities for violence ought it not to have been his mother? A popular web article titled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” does no service to the case for explaining this kind of shooting away with mental illness. There are no solutions provided in the article to the essential problem that a child has been raised who is a violent threat to anyone with whom he interacts and no restraint has been placed upon him that would curb his behavior if the threats did become deadly. The mother discusses the threats, admits she’s afraid for her life, even has trained her other two children to hide when her disturbed son goes on one of his rampages. All the while she hasn’t done the things that would make herself and the larger society safe. Discipline starts younger than 13 and can be exercised over the most unruly of children, but when all measures have been taken and a mother has to resort to police force on a regular basis, it’s time to press the charges. Do the paper work. No matter the embarrassment to yourself or your son, it is in his best interests to have the root of the problem brought to the light and addressed rather than hiding the ticking of the time bomb.
School security is another issue nation wide. In almost every context the idea of “security” refers to rules for safety being enforced by an authority figure. On the highway a police officer may stop someone for recklessly driving. In the home it’s mom and dad who, in homes where biblical discipline is exercised, make the rules known and see to it that there are consequences when the rules are broken. But there is a protective side to security. The police officer is sworn to protect the lives of innocent bystanders. At home parents should provide a safe, loving environment, for their children where they feel secure. This includes defending their children from danger. Here in Ohio, self-defense laws extend from parent to child as an extension of themselves. In one account of the shootings in Newtown, CT a teacher, huddling her children together in a corner of her class room, told the students “There are bad guys outside and we have to hide and be quiet until the good guys come for us.” This is not security. The problem here is that the teacher did not prepare herself or recognize that she is one of the good guys. Had the school staff been prepared to protect the school from an armed attacker, perhaps the result would have been more similar to the attack in Pearl River, MS.
3. Our faith must not be shaken.
From the beginning of time there have been senseless killings. It takes the Bible only 4 chapters to record the first murder. Today conservative estimates place the world’s population over 8 billion. The population at the time that Cain killed Abel? Four. With only 4 people on the planet. One still found a reason to kill another. God punished Cain and history progressed. Since then countless thousands have been murdered. Some deserving of it. Other’s seemingly innocent. Men, women, and children have been killed for every reason under the sun and the world’s philosopher’s have rightly asked a resounding: “Why?” Without an answer to this question we run the risk of becoming shallow, ineffective Christians. Have you reconciled events like Sandy Hook to the goodness of God? Can you explain the depravity of man and God’s common grace to someone if you are asked? Individually we might all do well to read John Piper’s book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, and seek to deepen our faith by sinking it deep in a foundation of God’s word and our local churches.
4. Hug your kids.
I was encouraged to see a number of articles and posts from various outlets depicting parents dropping off their children for school Monday morning. The faces were somber, but the parents were walking the kids to the door, holding them tight, getting an extra hug and kiss. We would be remiss to allow this kind of event to take place without considering the possibility that it could have been our school, it could have been our child. In this way we share vicariously a small part of the painful burden that the parents of Sandy Hook’s students feel now. We do not know God’s will for our children. We can pray for safety and prosperity and health. The most beneficial gift we can give them is to preach the gospel to them at home every day in word and deed. But we do not have a guarantee that some tragedy will never befall them, so remember that there are a finite number of slobbery kisses and hugs, first steps and games of patty-cake. Treasure every moment. Take a few days off work. Get to know your kids and develop loving, secure relationships with each of them. Visit your school’s administrators and ask about their emergency plans. Buy a gun and get some basic training in case you ever have to defend your home and family.
I hope this helps you think through some of these issues. If you disagree, I’d love to discuss the topic at more length with you in the comments section!