Just like me

I wasn't sure I wanted to blog about this subject at all, but it came up at our men's study group this morning and I wanted to put something together here which, I think, many Christians today are going to miss.
    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Think about this: every Christian will affirm these verses at least intellectually, or philosophically. We're all sinners, we say, and we are all sinful.

Then we see someone like , and we think, "my God: what makes a person do something like that?" And we have people of all kinds and all sorts of confessions or beliefs asking the very obvious question, "How can God let something like that happen?"

I mean, isn't this God's fault? That's what some people think Calvinists ought to say: God did it, and that's enough -- no more questions. Somehow some people will say that Calvinists take refuge in a God who is completely without interest in human life. And some who are really questioning the foundation of the faith at a more rudimentary level will ask whether God can be either good or powerful if something like this happens.

And their point, of course, is that this kind of thing happens all the time. There is always some kind of murder or rape or oppression going on -- always someone who is treating someone else like a disposable plastic icon meant for his own satisfaction. So the question of why God lets this go on seems pretty significant and in many ways demands an answer.

On the one hand, the consequences of that question are important. If God is not good enough or powerful enough (let alone all-powerful and all-good) to stop this kind of thing, what kind of God is that? Is he even God -- can't we say God doesn't exist if we can prove He's not what we, the Christians, say He is?

In that consequence lies the first part of the answer. Because look: if God doesn't exist, the only solution for these things -- the murders, the rapes, the kidnapping of daughters and sons, the long list of man's inhumanity against man -- is that man has to do better. We can all agree, I think, that murder and violence of this sort is on some kind of "thou shalt not" list, or at least a "you ought not to" list. But that means that if man has to stop this, man ought to have done so by now.

If it's that obvious to everyone that gunning down strangers is wrong, why does it still happen? Do we need more government to make it happen? Do we need more education to make it happen? How about more religion or maybe more freedom from religion -- is it religion that causes us to do these things?

Let me suggest something here that is not simply theology, proven by a first-grade Sunday school lesson in the book of Romans: let me suggest that man cannot stop doing this because these acts of violence are part of who we are.

"Cent, you're violating your better post today," says one person, "because now you're reading your theology into this situation and into all people rather than trying to get the facts together and then draw the conclusion."

No, I think not. When a disturbed kid guns down 30+ people and then takes his own life, we can see the extent to which men can be drawn to do what is wrong. But let's be clear about something: everybody is drawn to do what is wrong because we see them as viable and useful options. Everyone may not go out to buy weapons in a premeditated way in order to commit some act of community violence, but we all do things which treat people like disposable plastic icons.

We start dating sometimes because we need someone else to fill in our own personal need for attention; we break up when we think someone else will better suit that need, or will make us more socially acceptable. We manipulate situations at work in order to get promoted, or perhaps to simply avert being fired. We ignore people who are in need because we think they might latch on to us and cause us to lose some face in the community, and we despise people who do the same to us. We envy others who have what we want, and scorn others who can't have what we got. Yes: nobody dies most of the time, but once in a while some child gets aborted because we think our idea of a good time should include using another person's body for our own cheap thrills.

We don't want to admit it, but the truth is this: we are really like this disturbed kid who shot up his college campus in type, even if it is not in degree.

That's what "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" means. It means that we are all under judgment, and that (if we take our Calvinism seriously for a moment) it is really only because God intends to save at all that any of us don't wind up going farther and farther down the dark alley of our own desires until we don't have any choice but to mug or be mugged, to rape or be raped.

It means that I am just like Cho Seung-Hui -- not that I am unlike him and he's the one who did something God hates. I am like him. If I am honest, I can see in my own life the moments when I could have gone one step farther than I did in some sinful act and stepped into a life which would have meant that I was the one who would have killed 30 people who didn't even get a chance to be grown-ups yet. I'm the one who could have harbored that kind of rage. I'm the one who could have cut myself off from other people until they simply became targets in a shooting gallery. I'm the English major who could have written himself into a frenzy of confusion until I couldn't tell the difference between what's real and what's invented by my own distorted internal dialog.

He could have been me: I am a sinner, and I am the cause of sin.

So to ask the question, "Why does God allow?" has to go back to the issue of "What is God allowing?" The glib answer to the question is, "God is allowing evil deeds," but in fact God is allowing us to prove that we are what He has said we are. God tells us we are sinners -- and has provided the perfect Law to prove it to us. And in that, the solution God has on-tap is wrath against sin.

Think about that: the first solution in God's menu would rightfully be "wipe out all sinners" so that those who do wrong do not infect others with the wrongness, and so that God's own holiness is satisfied. But the problem is that God would have to wipe out everyone to get that done in a way that really solves the problem -- because if it's not Cho Seung-Hui, it's going to be Matt Gumm, or Phil Johnson, or Dan Phillips, or James White, or Pecadillo, or (most likely, in this list) me -- centuri0n.

What God is allowing now is the proof that we -- all of us -- cannot solve the problem of evil. But that is hardly the end of the story.

Because the next item of God's menu is "show love: be the one who is just and is the justifier". God can't abandon the question of evil -- He knows as well as you (and far better, since this is His work of Creation) that evil must be overcome and punished, but there is the question of whether He can punish and still love.

And in that, God has already loved the world so much that He gave us something which is precious to Him above all the rest of creation: His only Son. God gave His only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life -- God didn't send the Son to judge this sick and sinful world in order to destroy it all, but in order to save it.

That is, to save it from our selfish relationships which violate the image of God in other men and women; to save it from the petty violence inherent in every lie, every theft, every murder; to save it from our cheap jealousy over cars and clothes and houses and lawns and clubs and herd-like solidarity; to save it from our dissatisfaction with our own spouses and from our imaginary fantasies that someone else's spouse would better satisfy us. And most of all, to save us from blaming God for the things we do willingly and consciously which other people recognize as shameful and sick but which we excuse ourselves from because we know we don't mean anything by it, really.

Why did God allow? Why does God allow you to do what you do, friend? Why does He allow you to harm other people -- or is that not what you meant?

God allows these things in order that a greater redemptive purpose can be manifest in Creation. So that nobody gets their nose out of joint more than I mean to put it, this purpose is God's purpose for God's own end and intention -- but it saves men.

A tragedy like this is about the essential, primary, necessary nature of the Gospel and the work of Jesus Christ to fulfill all the Law and all the Prophets. There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Listen to the fear and the crushing sadness you hear in your own heart as you think about Cho Seung-Hui. It is not because he did something unspeakable: it is because he is just like you, and whatever the solution is for him, that solution is for you.