Monthly Archives: December 2012

Why Is There Evil: Understanding the Newtown Shooting

ImageDecember 14, 2012 was truly a black Friday and another American date to live in infamy.  In a matter of minutes, a deranged young man broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 20 children and five adults.  Prior to this bloodbath, Adam Lanz shot his own mother at point blank range.  Word is now emerging that he was mentally ill.

In the wake of the horrific shooting, everyone is asking “why?”  It’s more than just understanding why anyone would or could be so brutally calloused and excessively violent, but to a greater degree why (if there’s a God) it happened at all.

For those of faith, explaining this tragedy and God’s foreknowledge and involvement is no small task.  Nevertheless, spiritual conversations are happening.

Essentially:  Why is there evil?  Was this God’s plan in the Newtown shooting?  If so, how could a loving God not prevent it?

Those are excellent questions.

I’m sure most readers won’t be surprised to learn theologians have argued over this question for centuries. How does God’s character of LOVE and PEACE interact with a world of HATE and VIOLENCE? 

Part of the answer goes back to the beginning. God created the world PERFECT, with no evil.  When man fell from Grace in the Garden (Genesis 3), evil was introduced to this Perfect world and that created an eternal problem, for God and evil cannot coexist.   Furthermore, the fruit of evil blossomed, including hate and violence (not too long after, Cain murdered his brother Abel). To this day, man’s disobedience (sin) separates us from God, because God is Perfectly Pure. In general, religion (of all types) is man’s feeble attempts to build bridges to God (and all fail because no man-made religious system is Perfect). Ultimately, God came to earth in the form of Jesus to settle the matter and create the Way back to God. Christianity is more than a moral code, it’s the only solution to evil.  Christmas and Easter are bookends to this story.

It’s important to remember that God’s character is rooted in LOVE and PEACE. Jesus was called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). John 3:16 says “God so LOVED the world he sent his only Son.” The reason God performed this altruistic act of love because the world, without God in it, is irreparably broken, completely imperfect and unbelievably evil. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection not only saved man but served man with a model for goodness.  The Church throughout history has proven that good can overcome evil, again and again and again.

Ultimately, evil happens. Evil people do evil things. Evil people even do evil deeds that harm and kill the innocent and good people, whether children or adult.

Nevertheless, there’s always been a great debate about HOW GOD INTERACTS with the world He created. There are essentially three approaches:

  1. God created the world and now watches from a distance, with no involvement (DEISM).
  2. God created the world with a specific plan for all man and we are merely players in His Grand Scheme (or Script). Man has no choice and life happens on cue, as cued (DETERMINISM).
  3. God created the world with Purpose and a Plan (to eventually redeem man through Jesus), but allows man and life to act freely (choice) and randomly (FREE WILL).

All three theological views have their merits, but also inherent weaknesses. Only three religions frame God as a Creator and a Distinct Personality:  Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The latter two views (determinism, free will) are emphasized in Christian theology to shed light on Jesus’ life and ministry (why He came) and what it means now to mankind.

What happened yesterday in Newtown was clearly evil in action (mental illness can produce evil thoughts and deeds). If you prefer deism, then the tragedy reveals a disconnected and possibly unconcerned God. If you lean determinism, then you must admit God’s hand was in the shooting. The Almighty allowed it and, by default, knew it would happen and caused it as part of his cues. If you believe God did not cause the murders of 26 people, and that evil happens randomly, it inherently suggests a God who doesn’t know the future.  Or worse, if He does, simply can’t stop evil (even if He wanted) or if He could, freely chooses not to act.

For those who prefer this latter perspective, there’s an additional insight: because man has freedom to choose evil, they also have freedom to choose good. Consequently, God (through good people and goodness) can redeem the evil to create GOOD, if GOOD people choose to redeem the evil. It’s not that God doesn’t know the future or doesn’t care. He does, but God’s design allows for each man to choose right or wrong, good or evil.

So ultimately, did God have a plan in yesterday’s tragic shooting? Absolutely. Did God know it would happen? Yes. Could God have stopped it? No doubt. But why it happened depends on how you frame God.

In the end, the frame doesn’t matter as much as how we react and respond. If the shooting was part of a Divine Script, then surely God has already positioned the players to deliver peace and goodness to this tragedy. If the shooting was random evil (simply the result of a random, evil world), then good people can choose to overcome evil with good. Either way, goodness and God will save and win the day. Only the Deist is the most troubled by tragedy for they must continually grapple with why God would create a flawed universe and then remain apathetic, potentially doing the same in response.

For the determinist and advocates of free will, there’s always HOPE. We’ve seen it in other tragedies, whether natural (like Hurricane Sandy) or manmade (like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary).

God is good and so are His People. In fact, you can’t spell “GOoD” without “GOD.”

The REAL Deal: Why Christ and Christianity Are a Cut Above the Rest

jesus-christ-icon-thumb7426168Jesus the Christ is the Real Deal.

Can you name one other historical figure who is worshipped by name two thousand years after they lived?  I can’t.  Many a celebrity hears their name chanted by adoring fans while alive but how many sing songs to honor cultural greats like Shakespeare or Galileo or Bach after their death?

Two millennia ago Jesus the Christ was a homeless, penniless man who was horrifically executed as a common criminal. He penned no book, recorded no song, held no political post and led no army, yet countless authors, musicians, kings and generals have dedicated their lives to his honor.  Jesus never had more than 150 dedicated disciples.  In fact, most would abandon him, deny him or betray him in his final hours, and with exception to one, still return to champion His cause and claim He was alive.

Jesus’ entire career covered less time than what it takes to get a four year diploma.  He worked the fields, villages and lakes, far from the greatest cities of his day.  He preached, taught, exorcised, healed and resurrected. His fame was limited to dozens of miles from Jerusalem, and yet within a quarter century after his death Rome would buzz with the “good news” of his “salvation.”  Even Caesars would rage and eventually revere Him.

In the name of Jesus, his followers (known as Christians) turned the world upside down. Unlike other great gurus in history, Christianity powered beyond geo-political boundaries. While Islam remains largely a middle-eastern faith, Buddhism a far eastern philosophy and Confucianism a Chinese religion, Christianity has spread to every continent, often under intense persecution, and thrived.  While many a skeptic, point to Inquisitions, political protests and religious wars–often led by the misguided passions of a few, most Christians have improved culture and society.  Christians produced the Renaissance and Reformation. They built the world’s greatest libraries, universities and colleges, and preserved the writings of even the vilest opposer for the sake of knowledge. Christians, in the name of Jesus, created orphanages, food banks, shelters, hospitals, schools and countless social institutions.  Where ever there’s a disaster, Christians will be first to the field.

Christianity has protected the young, the female and the outcast.  It was Christianity the led Rome to outlaw infanticide and gladiator games. Christianity freed women and girls to be citizens. Christians have long worked for movements related to human rights, poverty and justice. Northern Christians helped to free slaves in the 1860s.  Southern Christians led the charge for civil rights in the 1960s. Christian women led movements for suffrage and equal rights.  Today, it is Christians who spotlight injustices like human trafficking, AIDS, unsafe drinking water and education.  The entire American Experiment and democracy is intricately related to the teachings of Jesus Christ that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights.  The United States of America, like it or not, was framed by Christian ideals from Christian men who fearlessly pointed to Jesus and his teachings for the rise of this great nation.

No, of all the great religious figures, only One stands alone: Jesus the Christ. 

Skeptics will scoff. Critics will balk. Disbelievers will ignore.  Historians can debate. Theologians can argue.  Scientists can investigate.  But NO human has made a more significant impact upon culture and history than Jesus Christ. We literally mark history by his life (BC/AD).  His name is a cultural curse word.  Who curses in the name of Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius?

Every Sunday, followers of this ancient Teacher gather to mark His Resurrection.  Twenty centuries after he lived, billions still sing praise to his name, preach on his words and point to HIM as the one who saved them.  They don’t focus on his platitudes or meditate on his essence.  They proclaim a personal relationship with Jesus.  A relationship!

Muslims don’t venerate Mohammed like that. Who claims a personal relationship with Buddha?  Confucius made a philosophical splash but who gathers in his name weekly to speak of HIS salvation?  No, these men who pioneered great religious systems are still mere mortals.  They lived and died.  Their followers love their legacy and practice their systems, but they don’t worship Mohammed, Buddha or Confucius as God who saves them and is now living in their heart.  Only Christians do that.

No, this Galilean guru cannot be anything else but God. Some philosophers say he was just a nice teacher, but that doesn’t explain how millions have willingly died for him and refused to deny him. Some critics chide he was crazy but no lunatic has lasting influence nor inspires people to be good and better.  Charles Manson had followers, but where are they today?  Jim Jones had disciples, but where are they today?  David Koresh enjoyed a cult following, but where are the Branch Davidians today?

I am a fan of Jesus the Christ because He was who he said he was: God. Christians serve a Risen Savior! He’s Alive. He was a historical figure–well attested even by secular historians of his day– and, yes, he died, but its only skeptics seek to keep him in the tomb. The great Truth of Christianity is Resurrection.  Remove the Resurrection and the Faith collapses.  Jesus was no different than Mohammed, Buddha or Confucius.  But if He’s alive, he proved his own claims to resurrect from the dead.  Who makes claims like that?  A liar?  A lunatic?  Or the Lord of Life!  Every attempt to discredit the Resurrection has failed.  His body stolen?  The oldest lie, but it fails.  Not one of  his first-century followers cracked and confessed such a coverup. A few can might keep a good man down, but over 500 people at one time saw Jesus Christ alive.  The disciples went to the wrong tomb?  Wouldn’t one of them correct that notion?  What advantage did they hold to venerate a dead Messiah in face of intense persecution?  None.  Jesus didn’t actually die, he only was comatose and revived?  This critique fails on several accounts.  First, the Roman soldiers were master executioners. They never removed a body from a cross that wasn’t dead.  Second, a cool tomb would kill someone in shock or a coma, not revive them.  Third, even if he could revive, how did he break out of a tomb guarded by Rome’s elite and sealed.  But Christ’s body wasn’t in a grave nor could it be produced by any man, friend or foe.  There was no error, no miscalculation, nor mistake.  The Body of Jesus the Christ was missing.  And his bones have never been found.  The God Man is Alive!

Yes, Jesus is the Real Deal.  He’s the Lord of lords, King of kings, the Greatest of the greatest.  He is the Promised Messiah, fulfilling hundreds of ancient prophecies including being born of a virgin in a town called Bethlehem.  His ministry of three and a half years sparked a Faith and following that billions of people on the planet now profess.  Yes, his followers can by hypocritical, selfish, greedy and profane, but these are the exceptions not the rule (and only prove we all need a Messiah).  Most Christians are humble, gentle, joyful, peaceful, loving, courageous and sacrificial.  They exude the best of society’s ideals.  They give greater, serve farther and live longer.  The sun never sets on a Christian doing good work in the name of Jesus.

Yes, it’s the stuff of myth and legend…but it’s all True.
Jesus was and is and always will be the Real Deal.
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