Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown, CT

After hearing of the murders that happened in Newtown, CT last Friday I changed the topic of my sermon from our continued exposition of 2 Timothy to consider some biblical themes of relevance to what happened and how Americans are dealing with this murderous event.  I approached the sermon by seeking to consider what the Bible has to say to us in light of this event.  We as the people of Jesus Christ must avoid sentimentality.  We must have overflowing hearts of compassion and empathetic pain.  We must also have heads informed by God's revelation so we can properly respond and interact in the national discussions that will be taking place for some time.  For the purposes of my sermon I had five points.

1.  We are especially burdened that it was children that were murdered.  This is proper and this sense of burdened is reflected in Jesus' view of children.  Matthew 18.1ff shows Jesus pointing to a child as an example of a kingdom participant.  He goes on to say:
And whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.  (vv. 5-6)
2.  Evil exists.  The slaughter of children confronts us with that which is morally reprehensible--and everybody knows this.  The murder of children renders the claims of moral relativism hollow.  There are moral truths that we cannot not know and the Newtown massacre forces this upon on our conscience in an unmistakable manner.  It is one thing to live in a time and culture where academics debate the acceptability of infanticide in professional journals but the arguments ring hollow when bullets and blood mingle.

3.  Already some are using this event to blaspheme and profane the name of God and his Son, Jesus Christ.  There are those who are claiming that events like the Newtown killings render belief in God foolish and that such activity of evil is the best reason to be an atheist.  But we really must ask whether naturalistic atheism provides any comfort or intellectual answers.  Can naturalistic atheism provide the proper intellectual framework to even make sense of the notion of objective evil?  According to naturalistic atheism people are simply evolving bags of chemicals. But why, given such an atheistic conception, should we be morally outraged if one evolving bag of chemicals causing another evolving bag of chemicals to leak?  Atheistic naturalism must give an account of objective morality and the value of human life.  We need to beware of non-religious sentimentality just as much as religious variants.  Consider the sentimental slop of John Lennon's "Imagine":
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Such tripe will not be sung at the funerals of any of the children.  A Christian conception of God and his revelation in Jesus Christ does not answer every question of "why" but it does, at least, make sense of our moral longings.  The biblical portrait of reality takes evil seriously and offers a worldview in which redemption, justice, and healing are possibilities.

4.  There is a legitimate way for the people of God to ask God, "why?"  Scriptural revelation gives us numerous examples of asking "why" of God.  This is not necessarily bad or inappropriate.  The Bible gives us a grammar of pain--language to use in the midst of crisis.  Consider the words of Habakkuk 1.2-3 and notice their present applicability:
How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and you will not hear?  I cry out to you, "Violence!"  Yet you do not save.  Why do you make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?  Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises.
Jesus himself even cried out "why" in the face of evil.  Consider those words taken from Psalm 22 as he is dying on the cross--"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27.46).  There is a proper place for painful questioning and crying out to God.

5.  There are no tidy answers that we can give as to why this particular evil was allowed to happen to these particular children.  There are questions but there is also something else--Jesus.  Jesus was born into a world of murder.  At his birth the angels sang but there is also a dark side to the story.  Herod killed a number of children in an attempt to kill off Jesus and, thus, to protect his political interests.
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.  Then what had been spoke through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more."  Matthew 2.16-18
There is a gritty and grisly realism to this narrative.  The Son of God was born into a world of murder and, more than that, he himself became a victim of murder.  He did not leave himself immune from the evil but, rather, embraced it.  The words of Peter in his first sermon are familiar:
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know--this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.  Acts 2.22-23
God's plan for his Son included murder at the hands of godless men.   This, of course, is not the end of the story--
But God raised him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for him to be held in its power.  Acts 2.24
Our hope is in the resurrection of Jesus.  God has shown himself more than able to bring good out of the evil committed against his Son.  So our hope is firmly rooted in this God of the resurrection.  The book of Hebrews has these important words:
"You have put all things in subjection under his feet."  For in subjecting all things to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him.  But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.  But we do see him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  Hebrews 2.8-9
We don't yet see everything subject and set right.  But we do see Jesus--crucified and raised from the dead.  In seeing him we see hope.  Murder is not the last word--the last word will belong to Jesus Christ and in that word we hope.