Monday, July 23, 2012

Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?

Once again we have seen the terrible answer to that question.  For all our wondering, for all our whispered through tears "why did this happen" or "who could have done such a thing," the answer is plain.  From the heart proceeds all sorts and kinds of evil.  We can refuse to acknowledge it and deny the truth of Scripture.  We can busy ourselves in search of rational causes in our desire to feel safe and secure and in our quest for someone to blame.  We can call in the experts to explain it to us or to tell us how to feel safe from such vicious attacks.  We can call it by a thousand names and try to diagnosis it as sickness.  Some will be comforted by these intermediate causes and by the attempt to find an answer to the why that keeps us up at night.  But, underneath, is the unpleasant truth none of us wants to admit.  We are sinners.

We are not moderate sinners who can keep our hearts controlled, our passions on a short leash, and our evil natures in check.  We are sinners.  We are big sinners.  We want to think that the shooter in Aurora is a strange anomaly -- an occasional sampling of the very few who live on the fringe of sanity and reason.  But it is a convenient lie we tell ourselves only to disguise the reality of sin and its hold on us.  We desperately want to believe that we and most are good people who occasionally say and think and do bad things.  We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, after all.

It is in times like these that Christian faith is most needed -- not because God has the answer to our question "why" or because God can insulate us from the bare and brutal terrors of the night and day which proceed from the sinful heart.  No, we need the Lord because such evil and such seeds of destruction live in all of us.  We need a God who is so determined to redeem us that He is not put off by the reality of what lies hidden under a veneer of civil goodness.  We need a God who is not so put off by this unbridled sin and unmasked evil that He cannot and will not stand among us and with us in Christ.  In the scattered fear of such obvious evil, we cling not to false hopes but real hope, to the cross planted in sin and death to bring forgiveness, healing, and life to us and our world of darkness and pain.

Christians gather for more than answers.  We come as the guilty to admit the sin within.  We come as the prideful to be taught repentance.  We come as the vulnerable to find refuge.  We come as the hurting to find comfort.  We come as the despairing to find hope.  We come as sinners to be redeemed.  We do not hide behind illusions or lies.  We admit and confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  There is no health in us.  We sin against God and we sin against each other and we sin against ourselves.  We may think that our soiled words and thoughts are not so bad as deeds but they are different by degree and not by essence.

And the surprise of the Gospel is that God comes to us in our need.  He comes to us with all that His grace has promised.  He comes with more than we dare hope for and more than we deserve. Our hope as a nation and as people within this nation lies not in explanation but in the power of mercy, grace, and love at work in Christ.  We lift high the cross when our arms are tired and our hearts wounded.  We may be tempted to find comfort in supposed explanations or in the assurances that these kinds of things are freakish acts seldom repeated but do not give in.  Do not settle for less when you can have a God strong enough to stand in the muck and mire of our evil and make us clean.  The One who alone stood for us in the place of judgement and now stands with us in the mercy seat where victim and sinner together find redemption and hope.  Acting through us, Christ extends His comfort to others and claims our voices and our arms as His own instruments of blessing amid the worst hurt and the greatest destruction.

We need many things in a time like this but what we need most is a Savior who can stand with us, among us, and for us and speak comfort, healing, redemption, and life.  This is the one and only answer that counts....


Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters, I find myself agreeing with most of what you write, and I do find a certain amount of solace in your words. But I think, when really terrible things happen, we sometimes stretch reality a bit too far. I suspect this is the case when you write, “We want to think that the shooter in Aurora is a strange anomaly -- an occasional sampling of the very few who live on the fringe of sanity and reason. But it is a convenient lie we tell ourselves only to disguise the reality of sin and its hold on us. We desperately want to believe that we and most are good people who occasionally say and think and do bad things.”

Simple observation tells us that people are not shooting at us with automatic weapons all the time. Moreover, similar to the Norwegian mass murderer, I suspect that we will soon find out that the perpetrator in this case is, in fact, a psychopath. Not all people are psychopath, just as not everyone was demon possessed in the days of our Lord, although all people are sinners. Also, I think that at times like these, it behooves the Christian to remember that, having been washed in the waters of Baptism, he is a new creature. Not that, as a result, we stop sinning, but, by the grace and mercy of God, we have “the mind” of Christ, by which our tendency towards sinning is checked. This may not be apparent to us as we view life around us, but it is an article of faith – it is what comes with our Baptism. However in no way does it permit us to boast, unless we boast in the Lord, because none of us have anything that we have not received.

Finally, yesterday somebody in church mentioned that it was such a pity that people were killed who had not had the opportunity to “come to Jesus”. In situations like this, the Doctrine of Election is a great solace. God will bring every member of His Elect into His Kingdom – some sooner, some later – and He will not be thwarted by a psychopath.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...

I think that I do not disagree so much with what George wrote but I do understand that psychpath or not, we place great emphasis in difference which is more degree than difference in essence. Is this not what Luther highlights in the catechism? Do we not - even Christians - have killing thoughts and speak killing words? We make great distinction between words and thoughts and the actions that proceed from them. So it is that we are grateful that the thoughts and words that proceed from our hearts do not find their way into actions - thanks be to God -- but they differ more in degree than essence. So while it may comfort us to think of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes as psychopaths, the greater need we have is not explaining these terrible actions but addressing the God whose love holds us in the palm of His hand even when we confess that we sinners of thought, word, and deed.

Pastor Peters said...

By the way, the "we" I write in the initial post refers not specifically to us as Christians but to citizens of our nation in search of answers, safety, and comfort in time of national tragedy.

For what it is worth, the media has identified the family as "Lutheran." It reminds me of the comfort I have given to a family whose son I had taught and confirmed and then this young man killed another young man over a drug dispute. We can raise our children well, bring them to the font, address them with God's Word at home and Church, and still the evil boiling under the surface can take hold of their heart and mind, and, without constraint, lead them to do terrible things.

Anonymous said...

I also received a chilling reminder of the evil within and among us, when I recently read a sentence in a book about anti-Semitism in Germany during the past 200 years to the effect that 90% of all of the Germans who committed the horrors of WWII were baptized.

George A. Marquart

Paul said...

Something completely unreported (thus far) in the American press, but somethow uncovered in Britain: the shooter is an habitual marijuana user, thus, disconnected from reality and giving the evil one more than a foothold in his troubled soul.

Nick the Brit said...

Thank you for this excellent article, Pastor Peters. I was looking for something to help my unbelieving friends come to terms with the evil behind the Malaysian jetliner destruction last week, and this is perfect!

Cheers..Nick the Brit