thoughts on the existence of evil and the hope of Jesus
On Wednesday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into his former high school in Parkland, Florida and took the lives of 17 students and faculty members. In the aftermath of the massacre, politicians, community leaders, parents, students, and mental health professionals have once again started speaking out about the need for stricter gun control laws and increased mental health supports for youth in America. While I am thankful that so many people are discussing such important issues, I'm saddened that it has taken yet another tragedy to reignite our desire for change. However, I'm not all that hopeful that these conversations will lead to meaningful changes in our society...
After the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, we talked.
After the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, we talked.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, we talked.
And here we are, not even a week after the shooting at Parkland High School...still talking.
There have been summits and forums and calls to action...
There have been protests and pleas and vigils...
All of that, and still no change.
Let's talk gun control for just a minute. Is it possible to completely eliminate public access to firearms across the entire nation? Yes. Will it decrease the likelihood of future school shootings? Probably. Is it the best course of action to take? I'm not sure. But will taking guns out of the hands of potential school shooters address the underlying issues that led them to pick up the weapons in the first place? No.
And what about the mental health side of the debate? Statistics from 2001-2004 show that almost 50% of youth ages 13 - 18 years are facing mental health challenges* that negatively impact their chances at leading productive and fulfilling lives. I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, depression, and anxiety when I was just 12 years old, so I have an intimate understanding of the challenges of living with a mental illness. I now work in the mental health care field myself, and am beginning to understand just how difficult it is to care for and successfully treat youth with mental illness. I do not know whether or not Nikolas Cruz was mentally ill, though I have read multiple news reports (including this one) stating that he had been a troubled youth whose adoptive father passed away unexpectedly in 2004 and whose adoptive mother passed away last year. Let me be clear: the relationship between mental illness and violence is very complex and still not yet fully understood. In fact, studies reveal that people with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. Still I wonder; perhaps if Nikolas Cruz had received the help and support he needed throughout his childhood and in the aftermath of his parents' deaths, he would never have walked into his former high school with a loaded weapon in the first place.
But the truth is, all of this is speculation. As a mental health advocate it pains me to say this, but I cannot ignore the truth: As important as it is to address the mental health challenges facing our youth today, it's not enough. Just like taking all the guns away isn't enough. In order for anything to change, we must be willing to admit this simple fact: Not only does evil run rampant in this world; evil exists inside all of us.
"The temptation to give into evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer." - from James 1 (The Message)
I do not condone the actions of Nikolas Cruz. I believe that what he chose to do was evil. My heart aches for justice for those whose lives have been forever changed as a result of his actions.
In reality though, Jesus is the only factor distinguishing any one of us from someone like Nikolas Cruz.
[Please take a minute to think on this before you respond with some emotionally-charged comment or just stop reading altogether...]
Sometimes evil manifests itself in the form of a mass shooting; other times it looks like an unkind word said to a close friend in the midst of an argument. As a society, we tend to agree that murder is an evil act, but we forget that sin is defined as anything that separates us from God. This includes lying, cheating, and speaking unkindly just as much as it includes murder, sexual assault, or torture.
Evil is not created by allowing people access to guns, nor is it created by the presence of a mental illness. Evil exists inside of you and inside of me. Evil simply is.
Just recently, I watched an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix. The story was that of a woman who, as a young adult, reluctantly helped her boyfriend cover up the accidental killing of a biker. Many years later, the woman's former boyfriend is feeling guilty and wants to reach out to the biker's family and explain what really happened. At this point, the woman is happily married with a young son. She also has built a successful career in business. Were the truth about her and her former boyfriend's actions to get out, everything she had worked so hard for would be ripped from her hands. In a moment of panic, she kills her former boyfriend, desperate to keep her secrets buried in the past. But it doesn't end there. There are three more people - including a baby - whom she ends up murdering in an effort to preserve her own happy life.
The woman in this story wasn't a bad person; in fact, she was quite the opposite. At the outset, she had wanted to tell the police what had happened to the biker, but her former boyfriend convinced her to remain quiet. Over time, though, she built a life she loved, and when that life was threatened, she became capable of murdering innocent people.
We all have a propensity towards evil. Given the right set of circumstances, all of us are capable of doing things we can't even imagine.
If our story ended here, our future as a human race would look pretty bleak. Thankfully, it doesn't.
"If death got the upper hand through one man's wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?" - from Romans 5 (The Message)
Because of Jesus, we do not have to live in bondage to sin. Because of Jesus, we can become the people God created us to be, people overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because of Jesus, we can be beacons of light in a very dark world.
Because Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified on a Roman cross and then rose from the dead after three days, we have life. On the cross, bitterness was traded for forgiveness. Indifference was traded for compassion. Judgment was traded for understanding. Hatred was traded for unconditional love.
Even in the face of such horrific tragedy, we can find peace knowing that evil will not triumph, not because we've taken all the guns away or because everyone has access to appropriate mental health care...
...but because of Jesus.
*This statistic does not include diagnoses of alcohol or substance use disorders.