Again, the news is flashing across our screens, a deadly shooting at a school in Florida, seventeen dead, students and parents in shock, and seemingly endless media coverage. Instantly opinions are broadcast about what ought to be done – officials should be proactive, someone should have intervened, guns should be outlawed, we need metal detectors at the doors, and on and on. Schools and churches review their plans and procedures if, God forbid, anything like this should happen in their institution. Some of these steps are no doubt necessary, if not as a solution, as an attempt to protect the innocent from the deranged. I won’t comment on any of these; I will leave that for experts who know the subject better than me.
As Christians, we do know two things about this, for sure. We know the “why” and we know the real solution to problems like these.
Why do these things happen? God’s word tells us why:
Romans 1.28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Human beings are depraved. They do evil things. They do evil things for a wide variety of reasons. Many experts will rise in the next few weeks to tell us what twisted this young perpetrator, no doubt. Maybe they will stumble on some things that are true about him, about what made him “tick,” as we used to say. There will be a tendency to identify something that triggered this young man, and then attempt a “one size fits all” solution based on this isolated situation. Regardless of the societal, economic, racial, or mental “contributing factors,” the one thing we know for sure is that this crime is human depravity on display.
A trap many will fall into is one that assigns this crime to a category of evil to which only severely twisted individuals stoop. The apostle Paul warns the moralist and the religionist in the verses that follow our quotation above. To the moralist he says, “Don’t think only these flagrantly wicked ones are evil, you do the same things.” The same in kind, although admittedly not necessarily the same in degree. To the religionist he says, “Don’t think your religion exempts you from condemnation, pagans can do good works without religion, so where does your religion leave you?
The point is, all mankind is depraved, even the moral citizens who are in shock over this outrage, and even those who lost loved ones in the shooting. Depravity means we are all sinners, we have a “downward pull” in our spiritual make-up, and we cannot overcome this downward pull by ourselves. Individually, you or I will most likely never do something this shocking, but we all sin.
Christians know the one solution to this and every sin that men commit, that is, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As I consider the wickedness of our world, as I consider my own complicity in fallen human nature, and as I realize that I know the answer, then that informs me of something that I must do in response to sin of all kinds. The needful thing is to preach the gospel. Ultimately, the troubled young man or woman (or old man or old woman) reached by the gospel of Jesus Christ will find spiritual victory to overcome the demons that may lurk in their life.
I’ve made a lot of excuses about a weak witness. I know you have too. We are afraid of conflict, we want to wait for an opportune time, we want to be careful not to harm a relationship… We’ve got lots of them! In the meantime, we are also enjoying comfortable lives in our first world luxury.
It is time, I think, that we simply became active witnesses. The ultimate way to counteract human depravity is to bring active sinners into submission to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. When we see stories like this tragic one in the news, it is appropriate to pray for the traumatized, but we ought also be resolved, yet again, to bring the Lord’s gospel to one and all.
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.