In the days following the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dec. 14, 2012, much was said about guns – why the U.S. needs more guns or fewer guns. People endlessly debated what type of gun control policies would be the key to solving the ills that manifested themselves in the shooting of helpless children. But it seemed that little thought or attention was given to the root causes of the evil we saw that day.
Reading through perspectives on the Newtown shootings, I came across an insightful blog post by Christian author John Eldredge. He quoted G.K. Chesterton in order to explain our misunderstanding of the causes of events we see:
“I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars….The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass….The trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail.
“As I look at these top-heavy giants tortured by an invisible and violent witchcraft, a phrase comes back into my mind. I remember a little boy of my acquaintance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees…he said at last to his mother, ‘Well, why don’t you take away the trees, and then it wouldn’t wind.’
“Nothing could be more intelligent or natural than this mistake. Any one looking for the first time at the trees might fancy that they were indeed vast and titanic fans, which by their mere waving agitated the air around them for miles. Nothing, I say, could be more human and excusable than the belief that it is the trees which make the wind.”
“Chesterton was describing the naiveté that has since paralyzed the world,” wrote Eldredge, three days after the tragedy, “a naiveté revealed by our shock [over the evil and violence we see]. What do you really believe about the cause of the ‘storm’?”
Chesterton’s philosophical principle can be applied to many areas of Western thought and practice. Whether we’re discussing the state of our society, the condition of the North American church, or a school shooting in Connecticut, we seem to be quick to address symptoms rather than root causes.
The real story
In the blog post, Eldredge reminds readers that we, as Christians, know certain things about the world that are easy to forget when storms hit. We know where evil comes from and we know what God has done about it – and we know how to engage in the battle or, at least we’ve been told. We live in a world at war, a world in the midst of a cosmic struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. We know that Jesus has won the war, but there are still battles to fight.
The Bible warns us of a great evil power who rules the world and with whom we must contend. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, our struggle is with the demonic.
However, many North American Christians continue to pursue the “happy life,” in which we expect that if we do our part – give, serve, behave – God will happily bless, protect, and manage this world in our favour. We lose sight of the spiritual battle we face. So, when tragedy strikes, we’re shocked and incapable of communicating real hope to others.
We start to put our faith in human ingenuity, as if we could solve the world’s problems through goodwill, creativity, or generosity. It’s arrogant and naïve – an act of “cutting down trees” rather than addressing or even acknowledging the root of our problems.
The hope we share
The church – the body of Christ – can shine a beacon of hope in this hour of crisis if we remember whose we are and whom we serve (Acts 27:23). We have answers because we know who holds the world; we understand the forces at play and God’s resources in the midst of great human tragedy. We have hope because, although sin and evil continue to exist in this world, Jesus empowers us – through his Holy Spirit – to overcome the evil one (1 John 2:12–14). It is time to pray and fast for God’s Spirit to move in the hearts and minds of his people so we may live in faith and obedience to his leading. It’s not human resourcefulness that will solve the world’s problems, but a sovereign, loving God!
As C.S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next…. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
—Willy Reimer is CCMBC executive director and lives in Calgary with his family.