Mass cruelty mystifies, but words of comfort transcend blood, spit, hair

A mass murderer is responsible to God for his sins, but acts under a sovereign decree by which God ordains judgment and blessing.

“The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died *** and every man.” — Genesis 7:20, 21

“So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth *** and the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.” — Revelation 14:20

“If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” — Amos 3:6

“But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” — Matthew 10:33, 34

By David Tulis

Violent and sensational sins such as a massacre of kindergarten children snuff public carping against religion. At least temporarily. Silent for now are the erudite defenders of post-modern thought.

Squeamish, they wouldn’t personally endorse an elementary school massacre. But their academic work and classroom discussion focus on destroying meaning, the certainty of text and the prospect of any fixed truth; they selflessly proclaim the interests of women, minorities, homosexuals, singles, the jobless and others who are victims of established paradigms such as Euro-centrism, patriarchalism, sexism, Christianity and the like.

While America’s intellectual elites momentarily stand aside on the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people,” they leave room for the uttering of much nonsense about the hour’s work in Newtown, Conn., of Adam Lanza, the gunman who killed 27 people and himself Friday.

Filling the airwaves are comments from people who, in their shock, seem unable to offer much in the way of spiritual guidance. Rabbi Shaul Praver tells NPR he doesn’t know why towns such as his experience “a day from hell,” as he describes it. He assures survivors they will see their loved ones in the next life. But he stops there. “I don’t know the answer to that. I never try to present  a theological answer to that. *** I never liked theological answers. *** I don’t try to solve it like some kind of math equation, or something like that.” Friends of families who lost children also seem to have little of spiritual comfort and seem disconnected from the God whose name comes briefly across the lips of some. A pediatrician, David Schonfeld, says, neutrally, “I wouldn’t provide false reassurance or dismiss legitimate concerns. *** We don’t help children by telling them they shouldn’t be afraid of things that are frightening.”

Hard hearts hammered into softness

Christianity offers the most satisfying explanation for such evils because it makes universal and exclusive claims about the legal and moral standard by which human conduct is measured. Christianity presupposes a sovereign God and a divine will, and an absolute moral code imposed unilaterally upon mankind by the creator God.

The exclusivist and aggressive nature of the claims of Jesus Christ places His system and worldview against every hostile claim, especially ones that would accept murderers such as Adam Lanza and rationalize his acts and demand protections and favor for his life, had he not killed himself after his rampage.

The consolation of the gospel in such bereaved towns as Newtown is that God is loving and merciful to His children, that every soul should repent of his sins and that evils such as murder are an offense to God first and the victim second. The sort of sorrow of which I speak is expressed by the prodigal son, who twice frames the matter this way, speaking to his dad: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15: 18 and 21).

The comfort to offer grieving souls in the light of any disaster is that God offers no communion with man unless man first makes peace with Him. A stupid and heedless people, the Israelites had for centuries God’s covenant that separated them from every other people and united his children to Him in exclusive alliance. The treaty was not between equals, but on terms set by God alone. God hates sin, as Matthew Henry points out in his discussion of the third chapter of Amos, but He “hates it most in those that are nearest to him; if they be but as bad as others, they shall be punished worse than others, because it is justly expected that they should be so much better than others.”

No disaster except at God’s merciful hand

The scriptures make clear God judges the nations, but first His own. His love and bride in the original covenant, Israel, goes whoring after false Gods and proves reprobate. After her self-maledictory oath and God’s divorce proceedings, Israel is liquidated by one of the most horrible sieges in history, that by the Romans against Jerusalem in the year 70 (as foretold in the Apocalypse). The church today has the power of the Holy Spirit upon her, and is the bride of Christ as established in the Great Commission, a new testament. When  her eyes fall tenderly upon the Baals of her day, she falls under correction, as do others who in times past were suffered to walk in their own ways.

The rabbi is right to state that kindergarten massacres affirm “the presence of evil in the world.” God’s ways are equal, ours are unequal, as Henry puts it. The evil, if we are to believe scripture’s fuller theory of it, is judgment starting at the House of God. Judgment is a payment on the account of the Lord’s people, and as the scourge strikes them, it bowls over the ungodly as well, for against them the cup of the indignation of the wrath of God is full, too.

When God speaks through Amos about the judgment of Israel, the Lord asks, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” And God proposes cause and effect. Lions don’t roar unless there is prey. A bird is not trapped unless there is a trap. The snare does not jump unless it’s tripped. If the trumpet blows, that means calamity. Cause. Effect.

The prophet is commanded to “see great tumults” in the midst of Samaria “and the oppressed within her. For they do not know to do right, says the Lord, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces” (Amos 3:9, 10). Official corruption, false imprisonment, courts that reject equity. God’s wrath is coming; it proves to be in the form of blood-thirsty Assyrians.

“[T]he evil of trouble, personal or public, is from God,” Henry notes, “and is his doing; whoever are the instruments, God is the principal agent. Out of his mouth both evil and good proceed. This consideration, that, whatever evil is in the city, the Lord has done it, should engage us patiently to bear our share in public calamities and to study to answer God’s intention in them” (italics added).

Human sympathy, yes; but how far does it go

The families stricken in Newtown cannot be considered guilty of any special evil or sin. Christ mentions the death of 18 people in the collapse of a tower in Siloam and asks, “[D]o you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4, 5). His point is that when terror strikes, repentance is in order. For God’s children, sin is chastised and the sinner restored. Without sorrow for sin and regeneration, the reprobate and hypocrites face only their just desserts, punishment and death in this life and the next.

School massacres are a terror upon society, driven by corrupt, huffy souls with an urge to mass destruction. They are a part of God’s providence, and part of God’s life plan for everyone involved, and for everyone watching his TV screen in fascination and horror.

The spiritual contentlessness of mouths suggests many people embracing the survivors of the massacre lack religious faith. Perhaps they don’t know how to bring it to bear, fearing to be presumptuous. Much of what grief counselors and psychologists say on TV is so much psychobabble. The survivors stand at the acme of public interest; all crave to hear them speak. How, I wonder, might they confess the sovereign God who is comforting them? How would you confess him if you were in a similar circumstance?

— David Tulis, a deacon at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian Church, is married and the father of four.

Sources: Matthew Henry, The Matthew Henry Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 1960) Rev. Leslie F. Church, ed. This edition is a one-volume condensation of one of the best commentators Christendom has produced.

Gene Edward Veith Jr., Postmodern Times[;]A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994). This study is excellent, as are the other volumes in the Turning Point Christian Worldview Series.

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