Another mass murder headline, following many of its kind: a man, sparked by some ideology, despair, or too many memories of horror, settles his own score by inexplicable violence.
In its wake there have been cries asking “why?” and before we even begin to answer our own questions a litany of discordant solutions tend to follow.
But how we answer the question, “why?” is of the utmost importance, we certainly cannot offer solutions to a problem we do not understand. Why, we wonder, why do people continue to murder crowds of men, women, and children for no foreseeable gain in our civilized, governed country?
I think, that after seeing so many headlines, and after so many centuries of seeing humanity’s ability to inflict unspeakable acts against one another, the answer is perfectly clear: Evil. The existence of evil is why; and no matter how modern, educated, and civil our society may be, regardless of whether we outlaw weapons or stockpile them, even with awareness raised for mental health or bans on people groups, despite our vigilance or pietism, evil will still exist within the heart of every single human. We are, all of us, one nudge from allowing it free reign within us.
Evil lurks as an opportunistic beast, biding its time until we are slighted, weary, bitter, proud, victimized, despairing, fearful, or overcome with zealous bigotry. It will rise regardless of what our hands hold: we have weaponized tools, chemicals, fire, kitchenware, animals, vehicles, medical equipment, and even a woman’s womb. Ultimately the real weapon is our own heart, bent against good and determined to destroy.
Because despite all our good deeds, and our kindness toward one another, “good” people are not really good at all. As C.S. Lewis wrote:
Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.
Our own goodness is but a thin covering for our self-preservation and self-interest, but it is too weak to hold against the tumult of the world and our own selfishness. It takes but a storm of tragedy, cruel experience, or a lie believed and our goodness is left tattered. Our “goodness” fails us when we are pressed.
In hindsight of a tragedy we all want to know how to avoid it, or how to quell the tide of evil we see rise in the eyes of these people who wreak such havoc. We all have our opinions (even abstaining from an opinion is an opinion), and whether we prefer precautions, laws, responsibilities, or silence, wherever we land on the spectrum, we will always be wrong if we think we can somehow eradicate or insulate ourselves completely from evil by some magical political solution. Only one measure has successfully rooted evil from human hearts, and it was not a political one. It was a supernatural one that left a good God bleeding at the hands of wicked humanity, and it was the only act of goodness that can root evil from our hearts.
We may make the mistake of thinking we are good enough or we can make people good, but God doesn’t:
God has never fallen prey to a vain trust in the goodness of human beings.
God knows our hearts and the evil that abides there. He knows we all stand at a precipice, peering into the abyss of evil only a nudge away from falling, and so he did what only he could do: he saved us from ourselves; not because there is something good in us, but because he alone is good.
If we are honest with ourselves the wicked acts of humanity shouldn’t leave us bewildered, they ought to sober us to the reality of our true state as humans, and leave us both convicted and thankful: convicted of the evil that rests in our own hearts, and thankful that God continues to root it out providing us with the only lasting solution.
It is by God’s grace alone that we can shoulder the burden of tragedy, see unthinkable evil, know truth, and return good for evil. We can look at the real horrors that crush our world and neither despair nor fear, but hope, because we know we cannot eradicate evil, but one day he will. We are assured of this truth because those of us who know him see him eradicate the evil in our own hearts, replacing it with his goodness, the only goodness that can hold against a world like our own.