A Christian Response to the Horror at Virginia Tech
Many of us found ourselves glued to the television, watching videos of the events surrounding the mass murder in Blacksburg, Virginia. A day like all other days for thousands of college students, faculty, administrators, and all the rest that make up the mini-city of Virginia Tech University suddenly turned into a waking nightmare, the kind of experience that happens on TV but never really happens to us. Or so we think. I’ve been to the campus in Blacksburg; it isn’t the kind of place one would imagine mass murder. But where would one expect such a thing, except in far away places like Iraq?
In such situations, our emotions typically take the lead since it takes awhile to get all the information that informs our thinking. What emotions do we experience? Shock? Fear, as we think about students of our own there or at similar campuses? Sadness for the loss of life, especially for such senseless loss? Another sense we have, sometimes not till after the initial shock has worn off, is moral outrage, a deep-seated sense that what happened was wrong: not in terms of economics or simply the proper functioning of an organization, but in terms of moral wrong. Deep down we know there is good and there is evil, and this event was evil.
But upon what do we base this sense? Before you just brush the question aside with the ubiquitous “Duh!” or ask incredulously, “What kind of question is that?!” pause a moment and give it some thought. Why is such a thing wrong? After all, if we push a Darwinian, naturalistic worldview to the limit, we might think ourselves justified in seeing this kind of horror as really no different from animals attacking and killing each other. Keep in mind that the Nazis were able to carry out their slaughter because they had relegated Jews to a lower level in the evolutionary chain.
The first point I want to make is that Christianity explains our moral outrage. It’s explained by the fact that we are created in God’s image and have in us a sense of moral right and wrong. The apostle Paul wrote that “the requirements of the law are written on [our] hearts,” that our “consciences [are] also bearing witness, and [our] thoughts now accusing, now even defending [us]” (Romans 2:15). God is the standard of moral right and wrong, and we reflect that knowledge in ourselves. Of course, we can deaden that knowledge; a conscience can be trained to ignore promptings to do good.
Have you seen someone get angry (or maybe you got angry yourself) when a person who commits such an evil act commits suicide immediately afterwards? Oh, I know: some people ultimately want the person to die himself. But there’s something about being denied to express our moral outrage at the person. We want justice for the crime committed, and we don’t always want it to be a quick and dirty justice. Frankly, we’d like the person to suffer and know what he’s suffering for.
How do we explain our desire for justice? What I described above is more a desire for vengeance. However, we do want justice. We want the person to face up to the charges, to hear the condemnation (consider the trials where families of victims get to speak their minds to the accused). We want him to know he did wrong and to know he’s going to suffer the consequences, and then we want justice meted out.
Along the same lines that Christianity explains moral outrage, it also explains our desire for justice. We know some things are morally wrong and are deserving of punishment. And we want to make a strong enough impression on the guilty that he (or observers of the case) doesn’t do it again. God is very interested in justice. A quick search in the New International Version lists almost one hundred twenty instances of the word “justice” in the Old Testament. The psalmist writes, “The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (33:5). “Truth is nowhere to be found,” God said through Isaiah, “and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice” (Isa. 59:15). And, “Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (1:15-17).
This isn’t just an Old Testament concern. In the New Testament we have this promise: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
A question comes naturally to mind. If God is so interested in justice, why doesn’t He fulfill it now? This is an extremely important question. However, it’s one I’m going to forego for now (search Probe’s Web site for articles on the problem of evil; Sue Bohlin’s article “The Value of Suffering” is a good start). The long and short of it is that we don’t know just what God is up to. We can hazard some guesses. C. S. Lewis said that suffering is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Let’s say we can’t give an answer to the question, Why is evil allowed? What then? If that’s the primary criterion for accepting a particular religion or philosophy as true, we will be able to accept none, not even secularism!
What, then? Where does that leave us? Christianity does have an answer to that: Christianity offers hope. Even in the worst of situations, the person who has received the grace of God in salvation has the hope of a future in which death has no place. This isn’t “hope” as in cross-your-fingers hope, like, “I sure hope the game doesn’t get rained out this weekend.” In the New Testament, hope is presented as the assurance of the future. We have the hope of eternal life—of that life which has no room for death—by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The apostle Peter wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus proved that He had broken the hold of death through His own death on the cross by breaking free from the tomb and appearing live to hundreds of people. Because He rose and conquered death, we who trust in Him will, too.
Hope is a fundamental ingredient of Christianity. Faith enables us to say “yes” today to what we know we should do; hope enables us to say “yes” to the future, because it rests in the hands of the God Who loves us. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is in Romans. Paul wrote: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13). This is God’s desire for us, to live in the (sure) hope that our future is secure in Him.
One more thing. Christianity isn’t just some set of religious dogmas and practices that keeps some of us off the streets on Sunday mornings! Christianity provides a way of life that minimizes such tragedies. It provides both the framework within which we order our lives and the ability to do it by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. Blaise Pascal held out the value of Christian morality as an enticement to see if Christianity is true. Even if it isn’t true, he said, look at the kind of life it calls us to lead! Thomas Jefferson, who so rejected the miraculous in the Bible that he edited out of the New Testament all such things, recognized a high level of morality in its pages. And when you ask people who the best exemplars of goodness have been in history, Jesus is typically on the list, even the lists of those who don’t believe He is the divine Son of God.
The point is that built into Christianity is a structure of life that prohibits people hurting each other. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that Christians never do wrong! But it is to say that we have more than just pragmatic reasons for doing right. We do right to honor God, to honor people, because we believe in moral right and wrong. Sometimes we do the right thing—only because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of the rewards! However, I would be dishonest if I didn’t note that there does lie in our future many blessings for obedient lives.
But Christianity goes beyond simply providing a moral code. It also provides the power to follow it! The Holy Spirit somehow resides in us (one of the mysteries of the faith!), and He transforms us, changes us through a number of ways into the image of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:5-17; 12:1,2; Gal. 5:16-26).
To sum up: Christianity explains our moral outrage at the mass murders at Virginia Tech this week. It explains our desire for justice, and guarantees that it will be carried out eventually. It offers real hope, hope that is sure, for those who suffer. And it provides a way for people to live with one another without having a reason to give in to such evil impulses.
It’s likely that some people will read this who aren’t Christians. If you’re one of them, I’d like to ask you to consider thoughtfully what I’ve said about Christianity, but also consider what you believe. You may be an adherent of another religion or philosophy, or you may simply be a secularist who believes in God but believes He doesn’t really have much to do with our lives. My question is this: If you agree that the issues I’ve raised are important, how does your belief system answer them? If it does answer them, do the answers seem plausible? Is there good reason to believe them? If not, maybe the whole belief system needs to be evaluated.
If you’d like to know more about a Christian understanding of these issues, hunt around on our Web site for other articles. Or send us an e-mail. You can even use the old-fashioned method of calling on the phone!
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© 2007 Probe Ministries