(I had another post written up for today as I try to get back into the rhythm of writing, but given the tragedy in Newtown, CT I thought I would weigh in.)
Newtown, CT is a town I’d never heard of. It is a small place of about 2,000 citizens, and it has been the center of our attention since Friday. In the aftermath of the shooting, there has been much comment and opinion. I held off posting about it mostly because I wanted to sort out my own thoughts and emotions. Today felt like a good time to share.
It Comes From Inside Us
There have been a lot of opinions offered on the matter. Some have pointed at violent video games as a culprit. Some have talked about the need for better strategies for dealing with the mentally ill. The subject of guns will keep coming up. Some will make this a culture war issue. Politicians and pundits will debate. Maybe some conclusions will be reached, and maybe some positive moves will be made.
In all this, we will be looking for something to blame: poor mental health programs, lack of security in schools, violent entertainment, access to firearms, or that schools don’t force children and adults to pray to the God in which they don’t believe. It will be talked about as if this shooting is something from outside of us, caused by external conditions, and if we could just get those right this won’t happen again.
While all of these are problems, none of these are really the problem. The problem is that there is something about the sinful construct of our society that expresses itself in violence and the mass taking of innocent life. There is something within our society that makes killing children seem like a good idea. Our collective sin creates this violence. Though the perpetrator is personally responsible for his actions, I am convinced that this sort of evil is the by-product of who we are collectively.
I don’t doubt that prayer in schools will at least make people think about God, but forcing people to pray has never been a good evangelism method. I don’t doubt violence in pop culture desensitizes us to killing and death, but from where did that violence come? We make the movies. We make the video games. We buy them, watch them, and we play them. This violence is not thrust upon us. We want it, we make it, we use it, and our creation changes us. We are Hell bent toward our own destruction.
From A Parent’s Perspective
As I write this, my oldest daughter just got off the school bus at the bus stop outside my office window. I watched her get off, and she is chatting away with her friends like she always does. She made it through her day, and she is home again. I am more relieved than usual.
This morning was odd around our house. It was the first day back at school after a weekend of hearing about Sandy Brook Elementary. My wife decided to take our 3rd grader to school. Apparently, she was not the only one. The line of cars filled with nervous parents and oblivious children wrapped around the block – much longer than a usual Monday.
Experts say our children don’t need to know all the details of this tragedy, but that they should know generally what happened, and we should answer the questions they ask in an age appropriate way. For obvious reasons, they need to know they are safe, and they need to know that the adults responsible for their care have taken the proper precautions.
Here is where I struggle as a parent. We are not really safe. The world is not safe. It never has been. Different places are relatively safer than others, and I feel quite safe in my home and community. But then, I live in a small town like Newtown, and I’m pretty sure they felt safe too. Before Friday.
We live with the illusion that we can solve the problem by adjusting factors external to ourselves. We also believe that by adjusting these factors, we will be safe. Like children, we need to believe these things because to deny them is to lead us to despair and fear.
As citizens living in a broken country, we need to have hard conversations about a great many things. We should have a serious discussion about mental illness. We need to talk about our obsession with violence, and while I don’t think guns are the problem, we really should ask ourselves why we’re in love with guns. Where does fascination for a device meant for ending life come from? If we’re honest, I don’t think we’ll like the answer to that one.
We could reduce the amount of violence in pop culture, increase security everywhere, implement strict gun control, improve how we care for the mentally ill, and re-introduce compulsory prayer in school, but the problem wouldn’t be fixed. We do need to teach the sort of morality that Christ taught: a love of God and a love of neighbor. We truly do need the sort of morality that can only be grounded in a knowledge and reverence for God, but without Christ’s Gospel, the real problem will not be solved, only the symptoms of it eased. We will feel safer, but we will not be truly better.
Good morals don’t make a Christ follower. Prayer in public schools does not equal following Christ. Caring for the ill and hurting among us is our duty before God, but meeting physical and emotional needs does not meet our deep spiritual need. Are we willing to settle for feeling safe, but not being truly well? Are we willing to settle for generic Civil Religion where everyone is praying but few are following Christ, or do we want the gospel and the Kingdom of God?
Jesus offers the solution to me and you. He offers real courage beyond death’s grasp, and real peace in the place of fear.