Dear Church Family,
Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the news of a young man who shot and killed twenty school children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut and then took his own life last week. It’s truly horrifying. And, like most everyone else, I have been inundated by the opinions of pundits, journalists, government officials, religious leaders, and friends. It seems that there is no end to the speculation concerning the reasons behind this despicable evil, and then speculation as to how to prevent it in the future.
Remembering our Creatureliness
A host of reasons have been put forth as to why a young man murdered so many people. Some of these reasons put forth include: lack of gun control laws, lack of help for people struggling with mental or emotional illness, God or prayer not allowed in the schools, lack of security in our schools, the proliferation of violence in mass media and video games, judgment upon our nation, and the list goes on.
Personally, I’m convinced that the truth of the matter is this: we cannot know the ultimate reason as to why these murders took place. As Christians who believe that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, we have some general answers as to why men commit evil and sin: through Adam, sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12); the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9); men are naturally blinded by their own sin and worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-25); apart from the mercy, love, and saving grace of God, we all naturally follow the course of this world, the enticements of Satan, and the lusts of our own flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3).
So, yes, we have a general answer as to why men commit sinful acts: our own depravity and rebellion against God and His law. At the same time, however, to speculate as to why a specific wicked event or sinful act was committed is usually just that: speculation. I have to remember that I am not the eternal, omniscient, sovereign Creator; I am a creature, bound in space and time, with a limited capacity of understanding. I cannot know the mind of God who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).
Mourning With Those Who Mourn
I do not deny that there are practical lessons that may be drawn from this tragedy with regard to law enforcement, protecting the innocent, etc. My point is simply this: because we are finite, we cannot know the ultimate reasons for specific evil and sinful acts. But because God is infinite and He has revealed His counsel to us, we do have the ultimate answer to the punishment, power, and pain of sin: Jesus, Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:14).
When we experience the pain of loss, the horrific effects of sin in this world, our most immediate and pressing need is compassion, commiseration, and empathy. In the book of Job, his three friends bring all sorts of advice (mostly bad advice) as they try and explain the whys and the wherefores of Job’s personal loss. Each one thinks that he’s figured out the reason why it is that Job has suffered. In the end, they are all proven wrong and finally, Job is confronted by God’s omnipotence and omniscience and has to confess: Job answered the Lord and said, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” One of the lessons of the book of Job is this: God is the Creator, and we are the creatures, therefore we cannot know the specific and ultimate reasons for everything that happens.
Despite their folly, though, I’ve often thought that in the immediate aftermath of Job learning that he had lost all of his property and that all ten of his children had been killed, Job’s friends did show some wisdom and compassion. When Job’s friends first approach him, “they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” (Job 2:12-13).
In the same way, we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. And so we should. It is what is needed, and it is what is right. Silence and presence are the need of the hour in the midst of pain and suffering. Then, without attempting to provide specific reasons for specific tragedies, we as Christians can provide the good news of the gospel: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9)
A Wonder of a Counselor
I have been thinking on these things this week as I have been preparing for the sermon for this Sunday on Isaiah 9:6 – “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” This verse is, of course, a prophecy concerning our Savior, Jesus Christ – whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The first in this list of four names which are attributed this child who is born to us is ‘Wonderful Counselor.’ That is to say, He is a wonder of a counselor. Jesus’ counsel – His will, His plans – are too wonderful for us to comprehend.
According to His wonderful counsel (His incomprehensible plan), the Son of God “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11). Now, everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and Jesus, Himself, will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40).
If that’s not a wondrous, incomprehensible plan, I don’t know what is! I would have never come up with such a plan to save and redeem condemned men and women. First of all, I don’t think I love that much to be able to sacrifice my own son for the sake of something that I made – even if that thing was made in my image. Second of all, even if I did want to redeem something that I had made, I probably would have tried to find a way that didn’t require any sacrifice or pain on my part. But, the Scriptures tell us that ‘without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). So, Jesus had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).
The Scriptures tell us that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Indeed, there are secret things (wondrous counsels) which belong to the Lord – things which He has not revealed to us. We cannot know the ultimate cause of specific events unless the Lord has revealed them to us in His Word. At the same time, the Lord has revealed much to us in the pages of Scripture. So, let us mourn with those who mourn, as we share the love of God in the good news of the gospel and His wondrous plan of salvation through His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch