A Few Thoughts on a Tragedy during the Christmas Season
by Brian Watson
“I read the news today, oh boy . . .”
This morning, over twenty people were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. At current count, there are twenty-seven dead, including eighteen children. This event is horrible news. As a father of two, I can’t imagine sending my children off to school, for the purpose of learning, only to find later that their lives were taken.
Christians should respond to this news by weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15). And we should pray for everyone who has lost a loved one. Imagine all the fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, cousins and friends who are in shock right now. Imagine their grief throughout the holiday season and beyond. I pray to God the Father that he would heal those who are hurting and provide comfort for them, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Christ Jesus. Moreover, I pray that this would be a time when people would turn to the Lord. Not to a sentimentalized characterization of baby Jesus, but the true Savior, the one who is written of in all the Bible, not just in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. But even if were to look only in those passages at Christmas time, we would see that Jesus is the one who “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is the one who will “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). I am also reminded that the Christmas story contains details of the slaughter of children, at the hands of another evil man, King Herod. This is a reminder that evil is real, and that Jesus came to defeat it. The end of evil will not come until Jesus returns.
This story is yet another reminder that evil is real. Many people will try to make sense of this event by talking about the shooter’s mental illness. Whether or not there is some truth to this, we cannot simply write off evil as mental illness, or lack of education, or the result of not enough gun control. When 9/11 occurs, we know there is evil. When dictators conduct genocide, we rightly call such things evil. It does not good to say that Hitler had a mental illness. The man was evil. Evil is not something that can be defeated through stricter laws, psychology, medicine, technology, or education. Stricter laws can restrain evil, but they won’t eliminate it; a man can still take lives without guns. Modern psychology originated in the late nineteenth century; can we say that we have become collectively more sane in that time? I’m not sure how such a claim could be defended given the evils perpetrated during the twentieth century and in the beginning of this century. Have we improved as a society through the use of medicine to combat depression and mental illness? Again, it would be hard to defend such a statement. It seems we become more miserable and less sane. We have greater technology and, if not greater education, at least the potential for it, yet these are not defeating evil and bringing about progress.
Evil is real, and the only thing that can defeat it is not a thing at all, but a person. Jesus came to pay the price for our evil, our rebellion against a perfect God. As people turn in faith to Jesus and away from their selfish, sinful, and, yes, evil ways, they find themselves being transformed by God. This is true of true Christians, not those who claim Christ but deny him by the way they truly believe, think, and live. While Satan rages on, his ultimate defeat will come when Jesus returns. Jesus has not returned because, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (1 Peter 3:9). We may not know exactly why any particular evil, such as the one committed today, occurs, but we know the only hope is Jesus, the one who “will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
When tragedies strike, I am reminded of Jesus’ words from Luke 13:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
We don’t know why tragedy befalls some people and not others. It doesn’t seem fair. But we do know that we will all face death one day. And if we don’t want to perish eternally, we must turn to Jesus. We must repent of our sins, die to ourselves, and put our lives in his hands.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but I fear that many of us don’t understand what this means. Jesus has always existed. He didn’t come into being when he was conceived by Mary and the Holy Spirit. He is the second person of the Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Spirit. But in the fullness of time, the Father sent his Son. The reason he did so was to die for our sins. All of us have turned our backs on God. Some of us seem to be more rebellious than others, but the basic crime is the same: we value things or other people more than God, who made us to worship him. Some of us claim that God doesn’t exist; many more of us live as if he didn’t. The greatest evil is denying the One who made us for his glory.
Since God is perfect and holy, he cannot tolerate sin. As the prophet Habakkuk said, “You are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13). Our sin has separated us from God, and when sin entered the world, God put it under a curse, which includes disease, death, fighting, and all manner of difficulties and problems. Our only hope is to be reconciled to God, but in order for that to happen, someone had to bear the punishment for our sin.
That is what Jesus did. His act of bearing our sins on the cross was prophesied in the Old Testament, particularly by Isaiah:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:4-11)
The apostle Peter confirmed that Jesus accomplished this when he died on the “tree of life,” the cross:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25)
Jesus is who reconciles us to God, thereby healing us. But the healing isn’t complete, nor is the defeat of evil. We wait for the day when Jesus will return to complete the job. I am reminded, and comforted, by these words of Paul: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).
Advent is supposed to be a time when we remember Jesus’ first coming and anticipate his return. When we see evil in the world, we are reminded that only Jesus can defeat evil forever. We anticipate his coming, and we say with the apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
One other thought: we must not assume that evil is what other people are, and what other people do. Yes, there are some truly evil individuals who perform horrific acts. But we are all guilty of disobeying God. More specifically, we are guilty of allowing other evils to occur on a regular basis, turning a blind eye to them and hardening our hearts.
Let us call evil evil and repent of our sins by confessing them to God. Let us turn to our Creator, our Redeemer, and put our trust in him. He is our only hope. Let us come under the rule of Lord Jesus before it is too late. One day, every knee will bow before him (Philippians 2:9-11). Let us bow voluntarily now, with grateful and loving hearts, instead of on the last day, in terror, when it will be too late to repent and when the only future for us will be the condemnation we have earned.