I’ve been brought to tears several times this past week in light of what will forever be known as “The Newtown Massacre.” What was looking to be a quiet, small-town holiday season for a community in Connecticut is now being interrupted by twenty-six burials: twenty beautiful children and six innocent adults. It doesn’t make sense. And amidst the pain of tearful confusion arises question after sincere question: What would drive someone to murder innocent children? Why didn’t he just kill himself first, thus saving all the others? Would stricter gun laws have kept this from happening? Where is God in all of this? Our quest for answers comes from our innate desire to comprehend the incomprehensible. This tragedy reminds us of the myth that we are in control. So out of fear we try to rationalize, thus grasping for control of things we do not understand. We desperately search for answers in hopes that we will be able to “make sense” of such evil behavior.
But it doesn’t make sense. Sure, there’s much we can do to understand how something like this could happen. Top contenders in the media seem to be mental illness, familial dysfunction, even lax gun laws. Discussions surrounding these issues are important and should be had, and they will undoubtedly shed light on how this happened. But the much deeper question of why cannot be silenced. We hear it in the sobs of the parents. We hear it in the subtext of the painful question: How do we explain this to our children (especially when we don’t understand why this happened ourselves)? The Newtown Massacre has reminded an entire nation that there’s something inside all of us desperately trying to make sense of evil.
But it doesn’t make sense. So in the wake of such tragedy and the unanswered questions that follow, what do we know?
Evil isn’t rational. We may be able to discern some of the conditions that gave rise to twenty-six senseless murders, but our best attempt to answer the intellectual how will never satisfy the existential why. While some deny the existence of something called “evil” in this world, the reality of its devastating effects forces us to respond. And so we adapt to it, cope with it, and sometimes even heal from it. But we cannot make sense of it. And there’s a good reason for that.
This is not the way it’s supposed to be. The reason why we can’t make sense of evil is because evil doesn’t belong here. If we could make sense of what Adam Lanza did, we would be creating rational space for it. We would be conceding that naked evil in some sense belongs, that we can understand and therefore more easily “accept” it. But we must not create space for it. What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary does not belong in this world. We cannot understand it and should never accept it as anything less than tragic, senseless, heart-wrenching evil. None of us knows why six-year-old Jessica Rekos won’t get to try on the cowboy boots her parents had gotten her for Christmas. But all of us know this is not the way it’s supposed to be. But is that all there is? Are we consigned to a nihilistic world where evil and confusion reign as king? Is there no hope at all?
Hope is real and he has a name. For many people, including some of the families most directly affected by the Newtown Massacre, there is hope, and this hope is bound up with faith in the historical person, Jesus. According to the Christian story, evil is not an intellectual problem that needs an explanation; rather, it’s an infectious disease that needs a cure. The world doesn’t need a reason for evil; it needs a rescue from evil. And, so the Christian story goes, this is precisely why God sent Jesus, who defeated evil by dying at its hands on a cross; who conquered its deadly effects by rising from the dead; and who gives us the hope that one day he’ll return to completely renew all things, thus eradicating evil once and for all. Notice that according to this story, evil still exists today. And the murder of children still doesn’t make sense. But for many both directly and indirectly affected by the Newtown Massacre, this means that true, life-giving hope is actually available. His name is Jesus, and the way is faith. We may not get the answer, but we do get the solution.
For those of us who put our hope in Jesus, as we continue to move through this Advent season, darkened by evil events, let’s look forward not only to the celebration (Christmas) of when God first sent Jesus to provide rescue from evil , but also to the day when God will send Jesus back to renew all things, utterly and completely eradicating evil and death once and for all.
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5).
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