Mass shootings are on the rise in the United States. When that level of tragedy happens, it can be challenging to know what to say, do, or how to pray. In the last quarter-century, shootings have gone from virtually unheard of to, tragically, painfully frequent.
Make no mistake: each and every shooting is a terrible tragedy; each victim lost is a beloved image-bearer of God who is to be mourned; each perpetrator should receive the most severe justice possible.
What is so unpalatable to accept is the increased frequency with which the shootings have happened in the last decade or so. They happen so often that it is difficult to process and grieve each one with the level they deserve. That alone is a tragedy.
As an internally processing introvert, I reel with news of yet another act of wicked, senseless violence. Still, my personality prevents me from saying anything if I don’t know what to say. I got to thinking about the “why”? No one can fully answer that, but this post is my attempt to do some analysis that will hopefully lead to some introspection for you, my dear reader.
An unprecedented level of gun violence
When the school shooting took place in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, it took the entire country by surprise and left us in shock. This was the first massacre in the United States that I remember. It was practically unheard of in this country, at that time twenty years ago.
Without going through all the mass shootings, I will say in general terms that as the last twenty years have unfolded, such horrific events have tragically become more common. It is gut-wrenching to note that there have been so many, even in the last several years, that it is tricky to keep track of all of them.
Why do mass shootings keep happening?
The staggering levels of evil represented in each event, and in every single shot fired is hard to fathom. In just two short decades, mass shootings have gone from an anomaly to an event that happens with such regularity that we must fight against desensitization. How did we get to such a dark place as a nation, and so quickly? This post will pose some ideas.
I am convinced that there are several factors at work in the demise of the moral fabric of our society. Whether they are independent or intertwined, they all work to undermine the America that those from Generation X and older recognize as the country we love. There are multiple things at play, depending on who you talk to. The factors, as I see them, are postmodernism, the human condition, and our nation’s collective rejection of God. I’ll expand on each briefly.
Postmodernism, at its core, rejects the notion of absolute truth. It instead replaces it with “your truth,” “my truth,” and the permissiveness to do and be whatever is desired by the individual. In the late twentieth century, it quickly moved from a fringe to having a hold on the mindsets of a great deal of Americans.
It has been noted by many great thinkers that this worldview is self-contradictory. For example, how can you be absolutely certain that there is no absolute truth? None, that is, except for the one absolute that forms the basis of that viewpoint? I see.
Delving deeper into postmodernism, we see that if there is no absolute truth, there cannot be a creator. Therefore, the evolutionary viewpoint reigns and everything that is and has come to be is not the result of Divine design and intention, but all a cosmic accident. If that is the case, life has no purpose or meaning. As depressing as that is, it follows that adherents to postmodernism would be prone to depression and hopelessness.
If life has no purpose, then what we do doesn’t matter, and human life ultimately has no intrinsic value. You can begin to imagine how such a mindset could be a breeding ground of entirely different behavior than a mindset that believes they are an image-bearer of a creator and made for a distinct purpose.
The human condition (unregenerate heart)
The Christian worldview plainly teaches that each and every human being was not only created by God but separated from Him through the original commission of sin by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The result is what is known as “the fall”; the stain of sin on a world that God created to be perfect.
Thus the reasoning goes that all pain, suffering, disease, and even the existence of natural disasters are all ugly repercussions of mankind’s rejection of God’s commands. We are born under the curse, as sinners in rejection of God and under His wrath. By His great mercy, He chooses to save those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Him through Jesus Christ. (For more information on how that works, check out this post.)
Christ teaches us in Matthew 7:13-14 that we should “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.“
Knowing that most will reject God’s offer of redemption, they remain in a state of hard-heartedness toward Him and continue as slaves to sin (Romans 6). Thus, the wicked behavior and brokenness we see all around us – including when we look in the mirror if we are honest.
God Bless America?
Prior to the popularization of postmodernism in the late twentieth century, Judeo-Christian morals were understood as the basis for right and wrong in this country. That is not to say that the United States was “God’s people” and that great evils weren’t committed here until recently. Obviously, that is not the case. We were a nation full of sinners that, collectively, were willing to admit that we were beholden to the Almighty.
That has changed.
As moral relativism has begun to reign as the new cultural ideal, “In God We Trust” as a common sentiment is now more like, “In Me I Trust.” We have replaced the wisdom of God and His word as our source of truth with our own thoughts and feelings. As noted above, those sentiments are mired by the sin and selfishness to which we are enslaved as a result of the fall.
So great is the depravity of the human heart that we see things like murder, rape, the slaughter of innocent unborn children, domestic violence, rejection of obvious biological categories, and the list goes on and on. As it pertains specifically to the United States of America, the last fifty years or so have seen a systematic removal of God from the public square to even numerous laws being written seeking to punish churches that choose to teach God’s word as authoritative, and businesses owned by Christians who wish to operate according to their convictions.
All that to say, America is undoubtedly a secular nation with a religious history firmly in the past. That is why I wince when I see “God Bless America” emblazoned on bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc. America has unequivocally rejected God. How can He possibly continue to bless it?
In light of that, what can we expect?
Romans 1:18-32 lays out the case that God places the knowledge of Him within each of us. It goes on to say that those who reject the knowledge of God will ultimately be allowed to continue in that rejection, to their own destruction.
As God sees the wickedness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9-10), Romans 1 goes on to describe a giving over to our own lusts. Thus, the restraint He has graciously given us in the form of conscience gradually gets eroded until we self-destruct. This is the path I see the United States on, as a society.
As we contemplate the devastation of a mass shooting, it rightly grieves and angers us. We inherently know that it is evil. We hunger for justice for the perpetrators and mourn the loss suffered by the victims and their loved ones.
Let us consider our desire for justice and our anger towards evil not only gifts from God but a reflection of His image upon us. Allow that to shape the realization that there is an ultimate Source of right and wrong. Let us NOT dodge the sobering reality that our sinful hearts are capable of as of great of evil as we condemn in others (see again Jeremiah 17:9).
As post-modernism has steadily eroded our morality, our sinful hearts have been left to feast on our own depravity, while our nation continually moves farther away from God. The destruction we see in things like mass shootings is one of the consequences of this chain of events.
The most important thing is for each of us to examine our hearts to see where we stand before the God to Whom we will all give account (Romans 14:12, 1 Peter 4:5).
This is one of the most sobering posts I’ve written. I welcome questions, respectful comments (even from those who disagree), and other thoughts on the “why” of mass shootings. Thank you for reading!