Yesterday was a bad day here in Nashville. My wife Lou Alice and I have had many friends connected with The Covenant School through the years. We were members of Covenant Presbyterian for the first ten years of our marriage and baptized four children there. And while we didn’t know any of the six people shot and killed yesterday, they were friends of friends—friends of many friends.
I have been reading Fleming Rutledge’s book The Crucifixion for Lent, and yesterday’s reading was on the nature of evil. Here’s something I read just a couple of hours before evil erupted three miles from where I sat:
Evil is neither rationally nor morally intelligible and must simply be loathed and resisted. The beginning of resistance is not to explain, but to see. Seeing is itself a form of action—seeing evil for what it is, not a part of God’s plan, but a colossal x factor in creation, a monstrous contradiction, a prodigious negation that must be identified, denounced, and opposed wherever it occurs.
We can expect all sorts of explanations and all sorts of convoluted reasoning in the coming days. They will not satisfy. Ours is not to explain, but to see, and to weep with those who weep. And also, to be as angry as hell.
In the past I have largely been resistant to language of spiritual warfare, on the grounds that fallen human beings don’t need the devil’s help to get up to every kind of wickedness, and they don’t need the excuse that the devil made them do it. I believed that there were principalities and powers and a devil seeking whom to devour, but I didn’t think it was important (or healthy) to pay too much attention to them. As I have grown older, I have come to believe that there’s no accounting for the world if there isn’t some extra-personal, extra-human evil at work here. The murder of children makes no human sense. Fleming Rutledge quotes essayist Lance Morrow on the subject: “Evil suggests a mysterious force that may be in business for itself and may exploit human agency as part of a larger cosmic conflict—between good and evil, God and Satan.”
Again, I’m not interested in any “devil-made-me-do-it” nonsense. But I wonder how it changes the conversation if we acknowledge that our worst tendencies—not just the tendencies of school-shooters, but also the tendencies of those of us who discuss what we should do next—can be exploited by an extra-human evil that is intent on destroying life and negating human flourishing.
I was hoping to have more to say this morning, but things are very fresh and raw, and I’m a slow processor anyway. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll pray for the people in Nashville who are hurting, and for the parents and teachers who are having to calm the fears of children even as they deal with their own fear.
As we come to grips with evil, let us live in hope, knowing that evil doesn’t get the last word. There is a God who will straighten everything that is bent, who will break the bow and cut the spear (and the gun) in two.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”