Gun Violence and Our Futile Answers
There is no need for me to give a lengthy account of the rampant gun violence and other massive acts of violence in America. You know about Las Vegas, Manhattan, and now Sutherland Springs. You know about the countless events that have preceded these more recent ones. It is horrific and is increasingly so as we grow ever more numb to it and it grows ever more normal to us. How tragic that our children have never known a world without all of this. Can they ever know such a world?
There are competing solutions on all sides supposedly seeking just this. One says more guns is the solution. Another says more laws is the solution. Others say more medication is the solution. What they each have in common is that they both accept and deny the evil that has enveloped us.
Those rooting for more guns have essentially accepted that this sort of violence is the new normal. What is perplexing is that they have at the same time basically denied the depth of the evil that has produced this violence. Do they really believe that such evil can be reasoned with by threat of force? Do they really believe that this evil can be outgunned? I think it is both simplistic and naïve. How can you threaten those ready to die in a hail of bullets? How can you have a good gun in all places, at all times, without also introducing new risks, besides hitting the bad guy every time?
Those who believe more laws is the solution do no better. Pressing for more laws indicates a basic acceptance of this violence as the new normal, while at the same time denying the very nature of this evil. Last time I checked, evil doesn’t give a hoot about God’s laws, not to mention American laws. Those who have been consumed by evil will use criminal means to achieve criminal ends. Again, this is simplistic and naïve.
Those who believe that the solution is to be found in more medication and psychological interventions have in some ways done even worse. This perspective basically denies any real presence of evil- there are only bad outcomes. It accepts that there is a problem, but that it is reducible to chemical imbalances. Practically speaking, it offers little hope given how bungled our medical system is and that we are effectively reliant on these troubled persons admitting themselves. Yes, this too is both simplistic and naïve.
The truth is that we have more guns, more laws, and more medicine than ever before. Yet can we not remember a time before when we didn’t have this depth of violence? Something has changed for the worse.
Without getting into an intensive historical analysis, I would like to suggest that America has lost her soul. When given the choice between “gaining the whole world” or keeping our soul, we collectively chose to gain the whole world. We conjured up the American dream, realized that cost money, and before we knew it, something that was just a good thing became an ultimate thing. Our lives became completely oriented around securing our comfort and repose. The Church succumbed to this, as did most other religions. The American Jesus became a cheap commodity for consumption, as common as McDonald's and just as disappointing. Our pursuit of happiness resulted in spiritual indigestion.
Accordingly, we are now living in the crisis of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” We have become our own definition of meaning, which can only result in hedonistic sensuality or brutal nihilism. Our meaning is our happiness or else there is no meaning at all. And what if you can’t get happy? Well, you could double down and try to find some better drugs or some kinkier sex. On the other hand, you could burn this whole place down with you. Shoot up a crowd and make all those happy people feel your pain, the pinnacle of schadenfreude.
The drug addict and the mass shooter, while not morally comparable, are comparably consistent in their hedonistic-nihilism. Most people are simply inconsistent hedonistic-nihilists. I don’t deny the reality of mental illness; I only forcefully insist that our perception of reality can eventually result in mental illness. When reality is obscured, we all become sick to one degree or another.
Honestly, I’m not amazed that we have these acts of violence; I’m amazed that we don't have more of them. Our American pie is filled with the forbidden fruit, our hopeless deification and our sure destruction. We have eaten our fill. There is no gun, no law, no medication, nor any combination of the three that can hold back the evil we are vomiting up.
I am a pastor, not a politician. Politicians have the impossible task of trying to cover our spewing mouth with duct tape. Do it they must, but there is no hope in it- the evil is coming up. As a pastor, I am blessed to be able to know and offer a real solution. If we really want to stop the violence, Christ is the answer. Not the American Jesus, but Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel he brings of the Kingdom of God is what is necessary to counter the hedonistic-nihilism eating us whole. Unless we deal with that, we will only be cutting weeds that will spread with every cut. We must present the hope of Christ, our new Adam who will raise us from the dead to join him in an earth made new. It is a presentation that must be manifested in the life of Church as she shines as a city upon a hill, the love of Christ radiating from the inside out. This is the only lasting solution for a world without hope.
You might call this simplistic and naïve, perhaps even foolish. I’m alright with that: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Use all the duct tape you want trying to patch this up. We should at least do that in the meantime, but we can’t expect any lasting solution from it. As it currently stands, we will continue to accept more and more evil while at the same time denying its full reality by insisting on a human solution. We will continue on this way until we accept that God-made-flesh in the person of Jesus Christ is the only human solution. The Church must remember this, must remember her commission in this world, and go further than anyone else is willing to go in confronting the evil that threatens to swallow us whole, this hedonistic-nihilism.