As I sit and listen to the endless commentary and analysis on the most recent mass shooting that occurred this week in Roseburg, Oregon, I am struck by a sense of sadness and a sense of bewilderment that is so intense that it motivates me to action. What action, can I take as an individual in response to this latest example of evil’s expression in our society? My action is to encourage all of us to take some time to think into not only the motivation of a young man moved to such violence, but also our collective response and attempt to understand, analyze and explain such action. Our desire to understand acts like these, naturally and ultimately is to prevent future episodes. But, if our understanding and explanation miss the true mark, then logically our efforts to stop them will also miss the mark.
How are we to understand a young man’s choice to scheme and carry out his plan to wound and kill people with such intentionality? As we watch, read and listen the endless tumbling of the details of the incident on media outlets, the formula for scrutinizing the shooter has become pedantic. What medication, what mental illness, what bias, what religion, what parental failure, what security measures, what law was lacking? There may be particular answers to all of these questions, but even if one could completely answer each inquiry, the sum of the responses would not provide an adequate understanding, or an effective solution. Back to my original premise, we need a true understanding of the root problem.
I am just going to say it. The simple explanation is evil. Wait, before you roll your eyes, and right this discussion off, just consider a few things. Here is the definition of evil, according to the 1880 Webster’s Dictionary:
E’VIL, n. Evil is natural or moral. Natural evil is anything which produces pain, distress, loss or calamity, or which in any way disturbs the peace, impairs the happiness, or destroys the perfection of natural beings.
Moral evil is any deviation of a moral agent from the rules of conduct prescribed to him by God, or by legitimate human authority; or it is any violation of the plain principles of justice and rectitude.
I think this definition is a good start, but I’m afraid it does not go as far as I want it to. Perhaps you, like me, suspect there is something more than what is captured even in this thorough definition. There is a third facet to the issue that we need to consider. That third component introduces a topic that I have been thinking on the past few weeks. Most people would agree that there are three parts, or expressions that we as humans all have. In researching this subject, I came across a discussion regarding this concept from a book entitled Rightly Dividing the Word, by Dr. Clarence Larkin. (The discussion can be found at: https://bible.org/seriespage/2-man-trinity-spirit-soul-body). There is the body, that physical, tangible part that is easy to see and understand, and is described as that which accesses the five senses, sight, smell, hearing, taste touch. Next there is the mind, or some refer to it as the soul. F.W. Grant has said in Facts and Theories as to a Future State, “The soul is the seat of affections, right or wrong, of love, hate or lusts, and even the appetites of the body.” While easy to confuse or assume it is the same as spirit, it is not. The soul is the place where desires, good or bad, lusts and longings, and even ideas and impulses originate from. Remaining then is the spirit. In the earlier reference from a book by Lehman Strauss titled Death and afterward, he states: “It develops then that the spirit of man, being the sphere of God-consciousness is the inner or private office of man where the work of regeneration takes place.”
Returning to our goal of discovering the root problem, let’s agree that the treatment of this issue is lacking, much like a three-legged stool that only has two of its legs! In our most recent tragedy, we are micro-inspecting through the law enforcement and forensic potpourri of evaluations to determine what motivated our latest madman to carry out his act of rage and hatred. Comments regarding his meds, his mental state, his politics, his socio-economic status, even his religious affiliation, while may be pertinent are still only two legs in the picture of this stool. Might I take a minute to differentiate between religion and spirituality? Back to Webster’s 1880 Dictionary, religion can be: “Any system of faith and worship. In this sense, religion comprehends the belief and worship…” One can be deeply involved in religion, but vastly removed from a spiritual connection with the Creator. Back to Dr. Strauss, our spirit is the unique dwelling place for the Creator God’s Spirit to interact and influence each of us.
My point then simply is this. A human being with his or her physical and soulish components, influenced by so many common and now accepted negative inputs, such as violence in media, movies, gaming, music is guided in a spiritual sense by what he or she focuses on, or worships. A person, un-regenerated by the Creator God’s Spirit, is vulnerable then to other inspirations, if not good, then evil. As our culture more readily accepts and even celebrates violence, the soulish part that exercises its control over us becomes more depraved and less inhibited. As the overall level of evil in our culture continues to rise and is protected and guarded as rights and norms, so some individuals penchant to physically act out in an evil manner becomes easier and easier. I had a computer science professor that once said something pertaining to computer programming, but I have found to be applicable to just about every facet of life. “Garbage in equals’ garbage out!” Incorrect keystrokes, faulty logic, incomplete reasoning leads to malfunctioning programs. So it is true in an individual’s life. What we put in to our spirit, soul and body does affect what comes out in our emotions, thoughts and actions.
Not so many years ago, even those who did not attend a church regularly, or identify themselves as Christian still endeavored to live by an ethic that originally came from our Creator God. The Ten Commandments and other laws coming from the Bible were common knowledge to most Americans. Not only were they common knowledge, but they were also commonly accepted as a reasonable and profitable code to strive for an individuals and a society. Now that these once common truths are lost to a generation, they therefore have no influence, and this is evident by the violence we see all around us. This is certainly not limited to mass murderers such as the one in Oregon, but extends to the crowd of individuals running about many cities, throwing bullets and wielding other weapons towards so many victims, many only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The effects of the lack of moral and spiritual regeneration are not limited only to murderous acts, but include the overwhelming wave of crime and mistreatment some perpetrate on children, the elderly and other innocent bystanders.
I have made my point, I think, but what would I like to see this encouragement of thoughtfulness result in? As I pause, to determine that question, I imagine the answer is possibly too simple, perhaps sounding too trite or overused. As a society, we need to choose repentance. While this perhaps conjures some image of a fire and brimstone preacher in an old-fashioned pulpit, that image sells this concept short. Back to Webster’s 1880 Dictionary; Repentance is described as: “real penitence; sorrow or deep contrition for sin, as an offense and dishonor to God, a violation of His holy law, and the basest ingratitude towards a Being of infinite benevolence. This is called evangelical repentance, and is accompanied and followed by amendment of life.” This concept offers hope, renewal and life to the individual, but also the same benefits to a culture that is drowning in an ever rising tide that is stealing our children, our future and our purpose as a country.
Galatians 5:19-21 says: “Now the actions of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, rivalry, jealously, outbursts of anger, quarrels, conflicts, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like that.” Is it obvious that we see plenty of this today? I think so. Would our culture be better off with drastically reduced incidences of the first list? Again, obviously the answer is “yes”. As a people would we much rather see what is described next list found in Galatians 5: 22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” So this is my final point; that this is the third leg that is missing in our tottering stool. Can you imagine what life in America would be like if we had more expressions on the second list, and less on the first? Let’s flip that stool up-side-down, and get busy fixing it. The missing leg is right at hand, all we need to is put it back where it belongs. As individuals, as a society, we need to choose a different input, to produce a different output. What we put into our life, both individually and collectively does influence what is produced. Are we then able to repent, and amend the spiritual input in our lives? Our future, and our children’s future and even our nation’s future, sit precariously poised for our answer.