Sin in Sin City

What are we to think about mass murder in Las Vegas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

America is still in shock over a mass murder that took place in Las Vegas earlier this week. It’s natural for us to mourn and to have some fear hanging over us, but this raises the specter of evil. There are Christians who I saw wondering how there could be a good God in charge of all of this.

That aspect is kind of surprising. The early church faced persecution of all sorts directly and did not say anything about how God isn’t good that I know of. If anything, their trust increased. Could it be part of our world in America is we’ve got so used to safety that we find it out of the ordinary when any kind of suffering comes?

I have also seen Muslims trying to say this was a Christian terrorist. There is no hard evidence I know of that shows that. The only criteria they seem to have for this is that he’s a white man and he’s not a Muslim. Color me skeptical. In fact, I’m skeptical of a lot of claims about who he was and why he did what he did until we have some hard evidence.

The evil about it is something we can talk about. How is it that someone could do something like this? All sides seem to agree that this was a great evil that took place and we just don’t understand it. Most of us have no desire to enter a hotel room and gun down a bunch of people that we don’t even know. At least, I hope a bunch of us don’t.

Yesterday I was driving and listening to my usual talk radio when I heard Trump speaking about the police officers that have been shot in this event. Now I don’t care what you think about Trump good or bad at this point, but he did say something about them. He said that many of them were good fathers and were loving husbands. I am sure he is right. Many people who died and were injured were and are good fathers and loving husbands or the appropriate terms for women who were shot.

Here’s the thing. You know who else is often a good father and a loving husband?

A serial killer.

Many times after something like this happens, neighbors are shocked. “We had no idea. He was such a good neighbor!” Many of the Nazi killers were in fact quite excellent at home in their family life. They just went to work and killed Jews instead.

It’s also easy to do what I saw done and say this is mental illness. Of course, it could be some people who do these things are mentally ill. Some people are just evil though. Blaming it all on mental illness sadly makes the entire community of people with mental illness potential time bombs and could ignore the real problem.

We all know in reality that it’s not the case that we live in a brave new world where if we just give people all the right medication, then we can banish evil from our midst. For most of us, we know this because we can look in the mirror. We can see the reality of evil before us.

One example of this is the Milgram Experiment. Two people would come in. One would be the teacher and the other the learner. The teacher would have to punish the learner for errors that were made. The learner would be hooked up to an electrical system that would supply shocks. An authority figure would tell the teacher to shock the learner and would keep telling the teacher to up the voltage. Some of these would be lethal voltages. The teacher would do this anyway and watch the learner feel the shock every time.

Except the learner wasn’t. The learner was a plant and an actor who was supposed to act shocked every time. The point of the experiment was that good people would go all the way up because an authority figure told them to do so. I seriously doubt that it’s the case that only people with mental illness did so.

So what’s it going to take to end these kinds of events? It’s not going to be more laws. Criminals already disobey laws and don’t care about them. It’s going to have to be a commitment to return to the goodness of virtue. We live so much by our feelings today that we don’t pay attention to virtue. More of the emphasis is helping us to feel good about ourselves instead of to be good. Much of what we talk about is dealing with negative feelings we have instead of negative vices that we have.

It will involve an education, but a moral education. There’s an old saying that if you catch a man stealing parts from a railroad and send him to college to be educated, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railroad. If a person has an evil heart, knowledge devoid of moral substance will just enable him to be more evil.

And dare I say it, but maybe, just maybe, we need the Gospel. Maybe we need the good news of humans being in the image of God and this being the world that God is reclaiming for His own. Maybe we need Christians to really be Christians and really be the salt and light they’re supposed to be. Radical thought I’m sure, but maybe that is what we need.

Evil is indeed in our world, and one of the first places we need to start to look for it is within. It’s easy to want to go and fix our neighbor. It’s harder to know we need to go and get our own problems taken care of. While I am not going and shooting up a concert from a hotel room, am I in my own way making the world worse or better morally? Am I loving my neighbor as myself truly and loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? How can I improve in those two commands?

Pray for those involved in the shooting and be doing what you can to deal with evil where you find it, especially in your own heart.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are People Inherently Good?

Are we inherently good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to say at the outset that much of my thinking on this is influenced by Clay Jones’s book¬†Why Does God Allow Evil? I would like to say the thinking was all mine, but it was not. I am near the end of Jones’s book and I do hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday while I was out driving I heard the end of a radio talk show asking if people are good or evil inherently. I tried to call in and answer, but they never got around to me. Since I didn’t get to say what I think on the air, why not say it here?

After the flood, we are told that humans have their every inclination to evil. We all know that a child has to be trained to be good. Being evil is something that seems to come naturally to us. Why do we not often notice this? It is because we live in a culture that has been so Christianized that we no longer consider how radical the Christian ethic was at its time. Today, we look at slavery as something that is just obviously wrong. Go back to the first century Roman Empire and try to convince your average citizen of that. Good luck.

One point Jones brings out is about genocide. Who are the people who do genocide? We would normally think of these people, probably from watching movies and TV shows, as the classical villains who do nothing but think about evil all day long and delight in death and destruction. Not really. Many of the people who ran the concentration camps of the holocaust would be people who would go home and be excellent parents and spouses and be really kind to their neighbors. So what kind of people were they ultimately?

People like you and me.

Really. There is not a great gap separating people capable of genocide. This was found out even further by the Milgram experiment. At the instruction of an authority figure, ordinary people would do actions that could have in other circumstances led to the killing of an innocent human being. You can read about that here.

If you at this point in fact start to think that you are better than the person committing genocide or the person who gives the lethal voltage in the Milgram experiment, congratulations. You have already taken the first step in becoming that person who is committing genocide and capable of giving lethal voltage. You have already assumed that you are incapable of falling like that.

Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We look at it and see the problem of the Pharisee saying that he is not like the tax collector. What’s the problem then? We go and say “God. I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.” Oh, we might not explicitly say that, but that is a thought that can come into our minds. Most of us, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are more like the Pharisee than the tax collector.

In the video game¬†Earthbound, at one point the party of heroes goes through a cave and the main character realizes his thoughts are being broadcast on a wall in written form for all to see. Most of us would want to flee out of such a cave as quickly as possible. Most of us I suspect know about the evil inside of us and the thoughts that come through our heads where we wonder “Where did that come from?”

In fact, our society seems to have lost the idea of virtue. I have been considering lately how so many books and such deal with feelings people have, and in a sense, that needs to be dealt with, but very rarely do we deal with the character of a person that can lead to those feelings. The problem we often have is not fixing ourselves, as in our character flaws and such, but fixing how we feel about ourselves.

So where do I come down? People can do good, but the example given on the show was would you pick up a $20 bill for someone if you saw them drop it and they didn’t notice? The sad reality is someone like Hitler might just do that and then go back and gas thousands of Jews and see no wrong in it.

When you see someone doing evil, realize that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could be that person. This is what makes forgiveness such a key issue. We forgive because God has forgiven us and that could just as easily be us. We need to show mercy because were it not for grace, we could be that person. We need to be desiring that that person grow in character and virtue instead of being where they are.

This should result in humility in all of us. We are all capable of great evil and we must all watch ourselves and be building ourselves up to be the persons that we need to be so we don’t become those people who do evil. Never once do we need to say that we are above a certain sin. If we think that, we are far more prone to fall into it.

And of course then, we must all rely on Christ more and more. The cross is the demonstration of His love for us and to that we must return. At the foot of the cross, we all realize we’re fallen and evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters