Disruptive Evil vs. Disruptive Grace in Newtown, Connecticut

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

This past week we all learned of the horrible acts of evil committed by a 20 year old young man armed with an assault weapon in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. In the end, 27 people were dead – 20 children (all 6 or 7 years old), 6 adults (including the mother of the killer) and the killer himself. This is a bold example of “disruptive evil.” It is the kind of evil which shocked and disrupted us at the deepest level. When the news came across the internet and television you could almost feel the shock and the depth of evil. Many of us were overcome with emotion and sadness. The normal course of our day and our lives was disrupted as the story of this horror entered our lives, and how much more so the lives of the parents and families of the victims. Jesus said that the devil comes to “kill, steal and destroy” (John 10:10). This week we saw the devil’s work: children were killed, lives were stolen and families were destroyed. Apparently, it all happened in about two minutes.

Do Christians have anything to say in the face of such evil? Well, I think our first response is not to say anything, but to “weep with those who weep.” Our first response, like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, is to share in the grief of those who are acutely sensing the depth of loss. We should first pray for those families. As a father of two children, I can only imagine the agony that news of such great loss brings. However, we must also remember that evil is not some strange outlier which occasionally raises up its ugly head in a kindergarten class or a movie theater. Rather, we live in a world which is headed towards death and destruction. The Psalmist declared, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any…who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none righteous, not even one” (Psalm 14:2,3). The evil which lost its cover and came so abruptly out in the open this week, is the same evil which is at work in the whole human race all the time in smaller ways.

In contrast, the gospel is about God’s intervention with “disruptive grace” which is even greater than the “disruptive evil” of this world. We are all headed towards death and destruction except through the merciful intervention of God. God has granted men and women free wills (or, more precisely, freed wills). This means that men and women are free to make real choices for evil or for good. Only free will truly makes love possible. God could have created a world of robots who obey his every will. But, obedience to God’s will is not the highest good. Rather, obedience which grows out of a love for God is. God wants our hearts, not just our obedience.

Love involves, by necessity, real choices, including the possibility of rejection. You can make someone obey you, but you cannot make someone love you. Therefore, the same free will which makes love possible also opens the door to the possibility of the utter rejection of God. Real choices which lead to evil, death and destruction are possible in this world, as we have seen this week. Both Mother Theresa and Adam Lanza made real choices in their lives. One chose to move to India and bring God’s love to the dying in Calcutta, the other chose to drive their car to the Sandy Hook elementary school and unleash evil.

This is part of a long narrative. Remember, on that very first Christmas when God the Father made the choice to send His son into the world, King Herod was soon found slaughtering infants in Bethlehem. The overlay of “disruptive grace” which ultimately trumps “disruptive evil” is a long road of redemption which winds though the ragged edges of evil and the crags of despair. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up well as he surveyed his own grim landscape of evil when he said “the arc of the universe is long, but it’s bent towards justice.”

If there is any comfort in this tragedy, it must be found in the knowledge that Jesus has borne all the evils and sins of this world on the cross, including the pain in Newtown, Connecticut. God alone knows the depth of this world’s evil. He alone has responded with the cross. The incarnation and cross of Christ is the ultimate act of “disruptive grace” which alone was sufficient to finally overturn the “disruptive evil” of this world. We do not yet see all things under his feet. However, in the end, God will judge the world and will set all things right. There are twenty children right now in the presence of Jesus who are counting on it.

Comments

  • Ryan Roberts says:

    Dr. Tennant,
    Thanks for this powerful statement about the gospel. What a hopeful intervention it is.

    I am inclined to think that those twenty precious children are seeing things clearly in the presence of Jesus that I, in the dark, am still counting on.

    RMR

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  • I am riled by the use of the same adjective for evil and for grace! The upshot of that is inflationary on the value of grace. Saving grace, blessing grace, healing grace; my alternatives to sell grace to a depraved world.
    The rest of the content is a pro pos.
    The hearts of all right-thinking people in the world are with the bereaved of Newtown, Connecticut!