Why does this kind of irrational violence happen? Why would a young man go on a rampage and take the lives of twenty-eight first graders and teachers, without the slightest mercy?
There is such a thing as rational violence. The kind I would use on you if I thought you were a threat to one of my girls. But how can we explain this irrational mass murder?
Two things we must admit: There are no simple answers. Second, we will never know all the answers. I doubt Adam Lanza could have told you all of them.
But having admitted that, there are two things I must say: First, we can know some of the answers. Second, we must commit ourselves to act on that knowledge.
As has been well documented, this kind of violence isn’t new. According to a Wall Street Journal report, there were 179 such crimes between 1966 and 2010. In the 1980s, there were 18. In the 1990s, there were 54. In the 2000s, there were 87.
But the roots of this kind of violence run much deeper. Genesis 4:3-8 recounts the story of Cain and Abel. There are some striking parallels between that story and Lanza’s that have come to light in a Fox News story posted December 18th.
In the Biblical story, Abel was “favored” Cain wasn’t. According to the Fox News report, Lanza believed his mother favored the elementary school students over her son.
Cain was immersed in his anger. He was giving it free reign. It showed on his face. Lanza was deeply angry at his mother for moving to have him committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Cain planned his act ahead of time, carried it out in cold blood. Apparently, so did Lanza.
All those parallels stand out as we look at these ancient and modern murders. But there is one thing that is recognized in the Bible story that I’m not seeing in any of the news commentary so far. It’s recorded in Genesis 4:6-7. God confronts Cain prior to the murder and says, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Sin is the missing element, the one thing we are overlooking. We fail to take it seriously at our peril. Sin is an incredibly destructive force. It has a more powerful influence over human beings than any other force we can name. It wreaks more havoc than hurricanes. It breaks more marriages than alcohol. It destroys more lives than addiction, adultery, and murder combined because it is at the heart of every one of them.
There are some facts about sin that we need to know. It will help us to understand how Newtown, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine can happen. The Bible often speaks of sin as an almost personal force, something with a purpose and will.
Sin is deceptive and opportunistic – it “crouches at the door”, ready to pounce like a hungry cat.
Sin is possessive – it “desires to have you”. It devours the soul as it deadens the conscience. It blinds as it possesses. Oswald Chambers observed: “Knowledge of what sin is, is in inverse ratio to its presence; only as sin goes do you realize what it is; when it is present you do not realize what it is because the nature of sin is that it destroys the capacity to know your sin. Once you are in its grip you are blind to it.”
Sin is Obsessive – Once it possesses you, you can’t stop thinking about it. Sin feeds the raging fires of loneliness, emptiness, meaninglessness and alienation with anything other than God Himself. Food, drugs, sex, anger, work, friends, gossip, slander, revenge…anything that will give us a temporary feeling of being in control, meaningful, worth something. Mass murderers usually fantasize about the behavior long before they actually carry it out.
Sin is progressive and predictable – it “provides a foothold” for evil, according to the Apostle Paul, which then overwhelms our other defenses.
What drove Lanza to blast those children into eternity? The same thing that drives you and I to hurt each other, to slander each other, to snub each other, to deceive each other, to take advantage of each other, to fail to love each other and forgive each other: The deceptive, possessive, obsessive, progressive power of sin.
Until Christ returns, evil will always be with us. But there are some things you and I can do to restrain it, and to mitigate its power, and perhaps to keep a young man like Adam Lanza from going over the edge. I’ll write more about those things next week.
 Guns, Mental Illness and Newtown, by David Kopel, December 17, 2012