What God Wants
(Mourners at a memorial for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Photo credit EPA-EFE Photo.)
It is October 5th, 2017, and we are just four days out from the horrible shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, October 1, 2017. While we are focusing on lots of particular details; how many guns were used in shooting, how many rounds were fired and how long they were fired, we still have no clue as to what led Stephen Paddock to open fire from a hotel window, raining death and murder down on hundreds of people before killing himself. A horror and tragedy to be sure.
Likewise tragic is the mad rush of politicos and talking heads who are trying to make hay out of this manifestation of evil. Some, like Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune, have even gone so far as to mock those who are praying for God’s comfort, suggesting that instead of comfort perhaps what God wants for us is stricter gun laws and for us to “use our heads” and pass them.
I have no idea about Mr. Huppke’s faith nor his knowledge of theology, but I am guessing, based on his article, that both could use a little work. All the same, he raises an important point, namely, by way of law, what does God “want?”
Christ taught that the greatest commandment, that is God’s law, is to love God with all of your heart followed by loving your neighbor as yourself (Matt: 22:36-40). All the Law, Christ pointed out, hinges on these two commandments.
Looking at the Law that Christ referred to, notably the Ten Commandments, a curious connection between all ten emerges. Although they deal with dramatically different behaviors; adultery, murder or theft, not a single one of the Ten Commandments concerns itself with what we should do to someone else who breaks the law. Instead, all the commandments are directed squarely at what each person should do within himself to uphold the law.
Does this mean that the Christian worldview is one without law? Of course not. But the Western view of law starts from an expectation that one can and must govern oneself. It is important to note that Christian, Western law is not ground in recitations of what God wants us to do to those who break the law. The founders of this country had so much faith in the proposition that we the people could govern our passions and ourselves that they design a system to keep government away from us. This was a first in the history of world governance, a gift that we should never take for granted.
In addition to foundation of its legal system, a Christian worldview is one that accepts the existence of evil as a real, present and ever dangerous thing. It is precisely because Christians believe that evil exist that they also believe that we must govern ourselves and our passions. The relationship between the two, self-governance and a lawful society, was once so well understood in Western, American society, that the second verse of Katharine Lee Bates’ poem, “America” (which is more commonly known as “America the Beautiful”) could run as follows:
“O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.”
Self-control. Law. God’s blessings. See the connection?
Evil is not a phenomenon that rises from lax legislation – it is an absence of good, and although a negative, it is as real as darkness, the chaos that pours into the empty space left by the actions of our fallen nature. Werner Herzog, the great German film director put it well when he said that, “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony; but chaos, hostility and murder.”
I am not suggesting that there should not be laws concerning guns; not everyone does, or should, get a gun. There is no “divine right” to a firearm. But dealing with the sort of evil involved in the Las Vegas shooting, the evil that lurks in every corner of our broken nature does not start with laws that regulate ammunition clips and gun shows. It starts with a societal wide, top to bottom expectation that we must restrain our actions in accordance with their ordered function, and not simply decide that we can allow something because it feels good, makes money or does not “trigger” someone.
Restraint of personal passions is hard work, an ongoing and drawn-out process that does not lend itself to the demands for an quick, easy fix. I try to avoid pessimism in all things, but I pray that we as a nation still have the fortitude to undertake this difficult work. Time will tell.
Any group of people, be it as small as a family or as large as a nation that will not expect each member to govern his or her passions is allowing, even inviting, evil to run amok. In my work in humanitarian media I have seen the results of morally broken societies in country after country. Ravaged people and places where greed, theft, adultery and envy are the order of the day. Though the location has varied from continent to continent, culture to culture, the one constant I have observed is that the evil loosed in these amoral free-for-all’s always falls hardest and heaviest on the most innocent of heads. And that, I believe we can be sure, is something that God does not want.