Here is what I am saying to my church on the Sandy hook shooting today.
Like most of you, I read of a shooter going into a school and killing 20 kids, and I was shocked and horrified and angered. And we should be shocked and horrified and angered. If the world was made to reflect God’s good design, his, love, his joy, his peace, his shalom where there is no evil, the world as it was designed to be, this is not it. And we should be shocked and horrified and angered. But how do we respond to this? Whats the Christian response? Let me attempt to answer that, I’ve been reading and thinking about this all weekend. And here's some of my thoughts. There are seven things we must do.
First, we must affirm the sinfulness of sin, and the full reality of human evil, and stand against it. As theologian Albert Mohler wrote this weekend, his thoughts undergird my thoughts (you can read his piece that I leaned on here), “we must recognize that this tragedy is just as evil, horrible, and ugly as it appears. Christianity does not deny the reality and power of evil, but instead calls evil by its necessary names — murder, massacre, killing, homicide, slaughter. The closer we look at this tragedy, the more it will appear unfathomable and more grotesque than the human imagination can take in. We should not sugar coat it”… We should call it what it is, and then we stand against it. We should have visceral reaction to it, we should hate it.
As followers of Christ, we’re to love what God loves, and hate what God hates...and that means we should hate evil, because God hates evil. All through scripture we're told that God hates evils. In Deuteronomy 12:31 we're told "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods." Proverbs 6:16-19 says " There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
As followed of Christ, it's legitimate and warranted to love what God loves, and hate what God hates. In fact, God says we should hate evil. God says, in Amos, Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you… Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph."(Amos 5:14-15) It’s legitimate to hate this kind of sin, not a person but a sin, and to name it as evil, and stand against it. This kind of evil is straight from the pit. We must affirm the sinfulness of sin, and the full reality of human evil, and stand against it.
Second, we must look to the cross. Right now, some are saying, in this, what we need is more love. But that is not enough. Love is not all we need. We are not only for something, God's shalom, but against evil, sin and suffering, these things are all results of the fall, and it is valid to see them as something that is worthy of standing against with everything in us.
And in this, there is real evil...something is going on in our culture, there's a pure evil from the pit. It’s unmasked itself, here, in Colorado, in Toronto, and on and on. It feels like the restrainer has been taken away, and the hour of the man of lawlessness is at hand. There is a battle, powers and principalities, spiritual powers fight against God's good, and we’re watching what happens when evil is loosed.
The only thing that will right this is revival. No human love will do it. We need revival because there’s only one solution to evil...the cross... because of the fall, we are all wicked and sinful by nature, rebels like Adam and Eve, and only God’s actions will right the world. Only God’s actions will make us love rightly, only God’s actions will end evil and injustice, through the cross he took our place, so that he can end evil and injustice someday, without ending us... and only God’s actions through the cross can make us love rightly. Evil will not have the last word, because evil, sin, death, and the devil were defeated at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There they were defeated conclusively, comprehensively, and publicly. On the cross, Christ bore our sins, dying in our place, offering himself freely as the perfect sacrifice for sin. As Mohler noted, “The devil delighted in Christ’s agony and death on the cross, realizing too late that Christ’s substitutionary atonement spelled the devil’s own defeat and utter destruction. Christ’s victory over sin, evil, and death was declared by the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of our hope and the assurance of the final and total victory of Christ over all powers, principalities, and perpetrators.”
And here’s the thing. Mohler continues, “A tragedy like this cannot be answered with superficial and sentimental Christian emotivism, nor with glib dismissals of the enormity and transience of this crime. Such a tragedy calls for the most Gospel-centered Christian thinking, for the substance of biblical theology, and the solace that only the full wealth of Christian conviction can provide. In the face of such horror, we are driven again and again to the cross and resurrection of Christ, knowing that the reconciling power of God in Christ is the only adequate answer to such a depraved and diabolical power.”
Third, we must remember that God is with us, and he knows our pain. In Christ, God is with us…and all through the bible we see, he knows what it is to suffer. The bible doesn’t tell us why evil endure. But it does tell us something wonderful, a truth we celebrate here at Christmas. God is with us. We see in Matthew that Joseph is told, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). Jesus is God, he’s God stepped out of heaven. He’s God come to, to be with us. To be present with us. That’s the whole story of the incarnation. And here’s the thing, the God that is with us is not a savoir who stands high and aloof. He’s not a God far away who doesn’t’ know our sorrow and suffering. He is God with us. Immanuel. He’s the god who drew near, and he endured hardship and sorrow. He experienced the full range of the human experience. Hebrews tells us that “it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:16-18) And We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.(Hebrews 4:15-16). John tells us that he went to his friend’s grave, and wept. He died and excruciating death. Our savior knows sorrow and suffering. He was tempted. He was tried. And then he endured the greatest suffering imaginable, the cross. And that means that while we don’t know why evil and suffering happens. We’re not alone in it. He is God with us, in the good, and in the bad… and we can go to him with our tears and fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We can collapse in his presence, with the assurance of his welcome when we need the mercies of his heart. He is with us… he will never leave us, or forsake us… he is God with us… Immanuel.
Fourth, we should long for the day when God will end evil and injustice… our cry should be, Come lord quickly… we should cry out this day, with all the saints, how long our Lord, when will you come and end evil... how long o lord, as we look back on the first advent, we say, come quickly…in this life, it’s legitimate to say that justice must be done to evildoers, the sword is put in the hands of the state, in the hand of the king, Romans says, He is God's servant for your good, but if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:4)
But there is an eternal justice for evildoers. No amount of justice in this life is enough, a lifetime in prison is not enough. In this case, we can have no justice, this man took his life, after taking the lives of 20 kids. But the day is coming, when God will judge evil. As Isaiah 11 tells us of the messiah, “his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isa 11:2-5).
There is a day coming when God will end evil and injustice. He died so that we might not face his wrath towards evil…He went to the cross so he could end evil and injustice, without ending his children. But someday, he will end evil forever. He will come back, and judge the world with righteousness. Then, and only then, will we have true peace… then and only then, will we know true joy, then, and only then, will the world be put right. On a day like this, more than ever, we should long for that day.
Fifth, we should mourn with those who mourn and greive, in the midst of this national mourning, and give what comfort we can. As Albert Mohler wrote yesterday, For now, even as we yearn for the Day of the Lord, we grieve with those who grieve. We sit with them and pray for them and acknowledge that their loss is truly unspeakable and that their tears are unspeakably true. We pray and look for openings for grace and the hope of the gospel. We do our best to speak words of truth, love, grace, and comfort. What of the eternal destiny of these sweet children? There is no specific text of Scripture that gives us a clear and direct answer.
We must affirm with the Bible that we are conceived in sin and, as sons and daughters of Adam, will face eternal damnation unless we are found in Christ. So many of these little victims died before reaching any real knowledge of their own sinfulness and need for Christ. They, like those who die in infancy and those who suffer severe mental incapacitation, never really have the opportunity to know their need as sinners and the provision of Christ as Savior. They are in a categorically different position than that of the person of adult consciousness who never responds in faith to the message of the Gospel. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the adults among the Children of Israel that, due to their sin and rebellion, they would not enter the land of promise. But the Lord then said this: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39]
Many, if not all, of the little children who died in Newtown were so young that they certainly would be included among those who, like the little Israelites, “have no knowledge of good or evil.” God is sovereign, and he was not surprised that these little ones died so soon. There is biblical precedent for believing that the Lord made provision for them in the atonement accomplished by Christ, and that they are safe with Jesus.
Sixth, we must remember that this story reminds us of the events of the first Christmas. In Jeremiah we read “Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” [Jeremiah 31:15] and in Matthew, we read of an event that fulfilled it, an event just as heartbreaking as this.
The First Christmas, was not all joy. This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but we shouldn’t forget that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah. Rachel again was weeping for her children. But this is not where either Jeremiah or Matthew leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.
The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah: Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.” (Jeremiah 31:16-17) God, not the murderer, has the final say. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”
Finally, on this Sunday that is the advent Sunday of joy, and today, of tears, and of joy, where do we find the joy? We find joy, in knowing that no matter what, the gospel is true. The hope of the gospel, gives us an inner joy that no circumstances or evil can destroy. We know that our savor has come, and died, and rose victoriously. Evil will not win, he died, so that someday, he can end evil and injustice without ending us. We can find joy, know that our light and momentary afflictions, will result in praise, glory and honor… we can find joy, knowing that, as Romans tells us, suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4), and we rejoice, knowing that nothing, nothing, in all creation, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? And I might add, “Shall madmen murdering children, shall shooters in malls and movie theaters? Shall fiscal cliffs and hurricanes? I don’t think so”. As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39) And so I say to you finally, be joyful, even in this moment of national mourning, the savior who lived and died, and rose again promises to be with you always… and is with you always…He is God… WITH …US… In the good, and the bad. GOD WITH US. Both now and forever, he is with us always. Immanuel has come. He died that we might live, nothing can separate us from him. God is with us always, even to the end of the age.