Seeing the news feed and the picture of a police officer rushing children away from a building, I sat in disbelief. I said to myself: “Please tell me this is not happening, that this is not real.” December 14, 2012 we witnessed a tearing in the garment of how the world is supposed to be when symbols of innocence were gunned down without conscience. In hearing of such cold-blooded evil perpetrated at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut we can’t help but seek for answers to the questions that plague our minds: Why did this happen and how can we stop it from happening again? Here’ a few common responses:
“Gun control is the problem” This was a sentiment voiced by news sources shortly after the tragedy, calling for tougher legislation on guns to prevent incidents like this from happening again. You can get rid of guns but the question still remains: could you have got rid of the hatred in this young man’s heart and his willingness to act on it?
“We can make our neighborhoods safer” Though suburbs usually have a reputation for being safe places to live, the shooting in Newtown combined with the unexpected mass shooting in a suburban Colorado theatre earlier in 2012, casts doubt on how far we can run away from evil and injustice.
“He was insane.” Perhaps the most common explanation for why this happened is that the shooter was simply insane. If this is simply it, then the solution going forward is to make sure people with mental health problems get the treatment they need. Of course, it looks clear that the perpetrator of this school shooting was acting out of touch with reality. But at the same time, sources say he was a “smart” kid and an honors student. So how could someone so intelligent be at the same time, so out of sync with reality? It appears that correcting rationality isn’t enough to correct moral sense. The very educated nature of many Nazi officials in World War 2 who nevertheless, perpetrated unspeakable crimes, is further proof of this.
Though the perpetrator probably did have mental health problems, it seems like simply labelling “mental sickness” as the reason this whole episode happened still does not do justice in describing the nature of what this tragedy was. I think the words of Conn. Governor Dan Malloy say it best:
“Evil visited this community today”
Few words come close to describing the nature of what happened in Newtown on Friday December 14th but “evil” fits the bill well. But if “evil” is a satisfying explanation of what the shooting was, it also forces us to see that the problem of Newtown has deeper roots than we can solve merely with gun control, relocation, or mental health correction. This is because the source of evil follows us wherever we go.
The Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, having been imprisoned during the reign of the Soviet Union in the Gulag and witnessed horrible atrocities there said this in reflecting on evil:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?1
Solzhenitsyn is saying that if you want to pluck out evil, you need to pluck out your own heart because the seed of evil begins in the desires of our own heart. If we look at horrendous tragedies throughout history we can find reasons they were perpetrated from desires we commonly display in our own lives: Jealousy, pride, envy, bitterness, greed, hatred. If we want to destroy evil, are we willing to pluck out our own hearts?
For evil to be overcome, we need something bigger, more powerful to save us from it.
We need a Saviour to overcome the evil in our own hearts.
1 – Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isaevich. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment In Literary Investigation. New York : Harper & Row, 1974-78. Print.