Posted by: reformedmusings | December 20, 2012

Theological thoughts on the Sandy Hook tragedy

It’s axiomatic amongst those who care that America has been on a moral decline for a long time. In the human sense, we enable evil by tolerating that which encourages or feeds it. Ted Nugent wrote a nice piece on our moral decay and how it empowered the evil psychopath who murdered 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. From the article:

Like an iceberg, we only periodically see the psychotic manifestation, the tip of our shattered culture, but what lies just beneath the surface is a gigantic cultural cancer that is rotting America from within.

True enough. But that’s still a predominantly secular view. What should our standard be? Tradition? Majority vote? Anything goes?

The reality, whether we like it or not, is that God set the standard for His creation and communicated it clearly in His Word, the Bible. God’s law reflects His perfectly holy, just, and loving character. We kick against the goads at our peril (Acts 26:14).

John Calvin, the French theologian, delineated three uses that God has for His moral law. The second use is to generally restrain evil in the world, even amongst those who don’t believe in God. There was a time when everyone learned the Bible and the 10 Commandments in school, and even the non-religious feared God and His Final Judgement. For non-believers, it was a bit like the old Blood, Sweat, and Tears line: “I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell.”

When our Founding Fathers created this country, they knew well Calvin’s teaching as they created the Constitution and laws of our nation. For about a century and a half, this moral restraint based on God’s moral law kept a lid on evil. Our nation prospered beyond imagination during this time.

However, when we started to kick God out of the classroom and our culture in the 1960’s, we started a chain of events that inevitably passes through Columbine and Aurora, CO, and Newtown, CT, going yet through horrible places of which we cannot imagine. In a real sense, we’ve tried to negate the second use of the law. We want unrestrained lives, total freedom from moral limitations. The societal mottos have been that “you can’t legislate morality” and “I’m OK, you’re OK.” From a secular perspective, Ted observes:

We’ve embraced a culture of contempt that attacks the very institutions that make for a healthy and strong society, and then we’re shocked when it spirals out of control. The only thing I’m shocked about is that anybody is shocked.

My good friend Pastor Andy Webb wrote an outstanding essay, A Voice Was Heard in Ramah, A Voice Was Heard in Newtown; Some Pastoral Thoughts about the Connecticut School Shooting. This is a must read, especially for those struggling to put this tragedy in perspective. Please read it before continuing here.

Andy reminds us that the depravity of the human heart underlies the evil that men do. With apologies to Flip Wilson, the devil doesn’t make us do it. God told us that in Jeremiah 17:9 during a period of history which makes the events in ancient Israel look like they were ripped from the headlines today. God gave us His moral law, not as rote rules to limit our fun, but as wise boundaries inside which our freedom is safe and blessings greater than we can imagine. Rather than being slaves to sin and its very practical consequences, we can be free in Christ.

Andy reminds us of another tragedy that occurred surrounding the Christmas story. He recounts the history of Herod’s massacre of all the male children 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth in an evil attempt to preserve his own kingship. The gut-wrenching pain in those 1st century homes was no less than that felt today in Newtown, Connecticut. Andy concludes that the only cure for these evils of the heart lies in the target of Herod’s murders – Jesus Christ.

Calvin’s first use of the law was as a mirror, to show us our sin and our desperate need for a savior. Who can possibly look at the world and not see this great need? Yet going back to Jeremiah 17:9, most miss it entirely. Once society banishes God and His law as a basis, the restraints of the second use fade away. We become like the last line of the Book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Yet, evil does not win on an eternal scale. Andy helpfully points out that what men mean for evil, God uses for good (e.g., See the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50, especially Gen 50:20; Job, Acts 2:22-24). Sometimes it takes years, decades, even centuries to see that outcome. Other times, we never see it in this life. But we trust God, not based on blind faith, but on a faith based on God’s documented faithfulness throughout history as recorded in the Bible and in the lives of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-29).

Pastor Webb’s reminds us why we’ve celebrated Jesus’ birth for over 2,000 years:

If we learn anything from this, let us learn that the ultimate cause of the massacre in Newtown, the massacre in Bethlehem, and countless other massacres in between was nothing less than the total depravity of the human heart, and let us remember that it was for this reason that Jesus was born. He was not born to provide us with an excuse for celebrating December 25th and giving one another presents, He did not enter into the world to give us traditions, He was not born of a woman, born under the law, to give us wise sayings, or even to do miracles. Jesus was born to “save His people from their sins” and to save creation from the awful effects of the Fall. He was born to do away with murder and death, and to make it possible for this sin sick world in which awful things like the murder of little children happens to be cleansed of every stain of sin and replaced with the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:12) He came that there might be a day when heartbreaking events like these might never happen again, a day when justice will be eternally done to wicked and unrepentant murders like Herod, and a day when His redeemed people might enter into an eternity in which “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.” (Rev. 21:4a)

The pain of loss is very real in Newtown, CT, and other places where evil intersects our lives. Evil is real. We must pray for the affected families, friends, and first responders who must live with this horror for the rest of their lives. As Andy encourages us, we should also pray that though the psychopath meant his actions for evil, the God will use them for good, though we within our human limits may not be able to fathom how.

At the same time, I join with the saints on earth and already in glory in praying that Christ will come quickly, bringing eternal peace, comfort and justice, and as Andy says, the final end of the slaughter of innocents. That is our only hope, peace, and comfort, but what a great comfort it is!

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