Tuesday, December 18, 2012

God, Guns, and Mental Illness

As often occurs after a mass murder, statements about God, guns, and mental illness have abounded in the media and in society since last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Where was God on Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut? 
Right where He’s always been—comforting, loving, and grieving with us and for us. That never will change. 
So how could a loving God allow twenty kindergarteners to be killed?
The theological answer is that we live in a fallen world with all its human frailties, sin, and the consequences of sin. Good people die tragically and sometimes this includes children. Evil will be present until Jesus returns. 
But to explore the issue of God’s presence in this tragedy further, we have to also look at ourselves. In this increasingly secular progressive society we live in, certain forces have tried to push God out of every arena. And these same forces are alive within the church to water down sin and its consequences. I watched a particular thread about hell unfold on Facebook one day, and a “professing” Christian made the comment, “My God’s not cruel. Sorry yours is.” 
Wow! It’s called justice. Read your Bible. 
Or as C.S. Lewis put it:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "THY will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened. 
And in a society where a large percentage of people claim belief in God, many fail to have any Biblical basis for what this means. How else can you explain the same people failing to understand that they were made in God’s image, not vice versa? God shouldn’t be different things to different people. He’s the One True God, consistent in His actions since day one. Read the Bible, and you’ll find this is so.
God has been pushed out of the school system. While they strive to teach right and wrong (and I don’t know how you do this apart from calling sin what it is), they aren’t allowed to teach eternal consequences, only the mentality of “if you get caught, X will happen.” It’s not a far stretch to see that a gunman’s plan of taking down as many people as he can in the most horrific manner he can before ending his life reflects no thought of possible judgment before God. The killer has accomplished his goal of ensuring his name goes down in history. He gets all the glory, right?
I think of all the commentaries I’ve heard over the past few days, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee put it best:
“We ask why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that. Maybe we ought to let (God) in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”
There’s more to the story. Our kids are inundated with movies that depict gratuitous violence and video games where people are killed with no feeling or consequences. This is a generation who has grown up on movies like John Q, where threatening others to serve your own agenda produces happy endings. And we dare ask why mass shootings happen?
American society continues to push God out. You only have to look at Christmas to see this is so. The secular progressives want to strip Christmas of any spirituality. They have a lot of nerve celebrating Jesus’ birthday to begin with, but then they want to tell everybody else to toss Jesus out the window, too. 
Redefine Him, marginalize Him, and castigate Him. Then ask where He is. 
Yeah, that’ll work. 
We are failing as a nation. Those who point the finger at God and ask why He allowed this to happen are hopelessly misguided. He set up the perfect world and gave us free choice. We’re the ones who’ve screwed it up. This world has grieved God’s heart from the moment He had to put us out of the Garden of Eden. God’s heart breaks every time human carnage happens on this earth. The Bible states He is a patient God (2 Peter 3:9), not wanting anyone to be lost, but this patience has an ending. It’s called Judgment Day. 
If you want to point a finger, it must turn inward on society and not above to our Lord. And you can’t simultaneously hold the belief there is no God and then blame Him when tragedy happens. 
Another issue exists—mental illness. 
While some shootings occur as a result of a disgruntled individual, like the shooting at Birmingham, AL, St. Vincent’s Hospital on Friday, mass murderers are more complex. Aside from what I’ve discussed above, these individuals are often deeply disturbed and suffering from some form of mental illness. In an article written by Liza Long, she shares her fear about the mental illness her teenage son has. (I’ve purposely not given the title of the article since it includes the Newtown killer’s name.) 
What struck me about Ms. Long’s nightmare is her unwillingness to excuse her son’s behavior. Even when her own life is endangered, she maintains an unwavering belief that he be held accountable for his actions. 
Furthermore, within the complex discussion about mental illness is the reality that a diagnosis is not a definitive precursor to mass killings. When my mentally ill sister would become delusional, psychotic, or severely depressed, she hurt herself. Some mass murders don’t show outward signs of mental illness beforehand. Sure, after the fact, family and friends have 20/20 hindsight that provides some clues to an illness. But a precursor to killing? Not always. 
I remember during the early 1990s living in Gainesville, FL, when a serial killer struck and butchered six students. The first arrest made in the case was a mentally ill young man who had stopped taking his psychotropic medication. When he was led into court in shackles, the cameras captured his dazed, deranged look. He fit the profile of the killer in everybody’s mind. Fortunately, DNA exonerated this innocent man.
Our mental health system is broken, and this has to be part of the discussion. But we must tread cautiously in doing so. 
Then there’s the elephant in the room. Gun control.  
On Friday, while this carnage happened in our country, China experienced a similar attack. However, the perpetrator used a knife. Twenty-two school children were critically wounded by the time he was stopped. Obviously, while tightening gun laws may reduce the overall number of fatalities, it isn’t going to stop mass murders from happening. 
So what’s the answer to the gun debate?
The Sandy Hook school principal lunged at the attacker, but what weapon did she have to stop the killer or protect herself? Her bare hands. That’s sad. 
I heard the president of the American Federation of Teachers speak on the television Sunday. The gist of her remarks (expressed in her best kumbaya voice) was school is a safe sanctuary of learning. Allowing more guns in (by administrators arming themselves) would jeopardize this.
We have armed resource officers in many schools in the South. Perhaps other regions of the country have them, as well. A couple of years ago, an armed student from another school managed to get inside the high school my son attends. The school went on lockdown while the resource officer went after the intruder. When the student saw the officer, he fled. The officer chased and captured him. The officer didn’t have to shoot him, but the kid knew he would. The student was there to settle a score over a girl, not to commit a mass murder, but imagine if he’d encountered the unarmed female principal instead of the armed resource officer. You have to wonder if the outcome would have been different. 
In addition to having a resource officer armed with a gun and taser, my son’s high school has two security officers on constant patrol, security cameras whose feed goes directly into the county sheriff’s office, and many other security measures in place. Will this ensure complete safety for my child? No, but consider this. The gunman at Sandy Hook only stopped killing when the first responders were running down the hall toward the classroom he was in. At that point he took his life
The problem of mass murders and public shootings is complex, one that has developed over time. The solution is no doubt multi-faceted, but we can’t afford to take the same amount of time to find it. Nor can it be the single-minded “my way or no way” mentality permeating our society. If we don’t put aside the divisiveness in this country and work together to find solutions, these murders will continue to escalate.
© Laura Hodges Poole


  1. Great article Laura! I agree wholeheartedly.

  2. You've covered pretty much every aspect.
    If only more of us would grasp that we are made in HIS image and not the other way around, how different our world might be.

    I read somewhere that forks don't make people fat anymore than guns kill people. (or something similar)

    We can keep putting band aides on our wounds but until we truly seek God, none of it will matter.

    1. So true. It'll be interesting to see what recommendations come from the task force the President formed.