Someone spoke to me this morning about the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, and the only response I could muster was, “This is a messed up world.” It is a Monday morning, but that is no excuse for such a flimsy answer. Especially from a pastor.
Indeed, something in this world is “messed up”, but to say this world is messed up is to misrepresent the truth of the matter. Janie B. Cheaney, writing for WORLD Magazine, discussed the previous mass shooting in Las Vegas (“The terror of the void”, 11/11/17). In her article, she raised an important theological concept first put forward by Augustine. He proposed what is called the “privation theory”. It goes something like this:
God created a world that He declared to be good. He created everything in it; therefore everything in it must be good.
Yet, how do we account for what we call “evil” in the world (like mass shooters in churches)?
Augustine posited that “evil” is not actually a “thing”, but rather the absence of something else – good.
Cheaney quotes the Bishop of Hippo, who wrote, “Evil has no positive nature, but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’”
Augustine’s theory is not without its critics, or its intellectual chinks, but it does remind us of something important: evil is counter to what is good, and according to Scripture, evil is overcome by what is good. In Romans 12:21, the Apostle Paul wrote this instruction: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
What will happen now in our culture is fairly predictable. The press will scrape up every piece of information they can on the shooter, and everyone will speculate as to his motive. In the midst of the discussion, what is an intrusion of evil will be picked up as a political football, and punted back and forth between the gun control advocates and people with NRA stickers on their trucks. Some will see it as evidence of Christian persecution in America, while others will label it a societal/governmental failure to deal with the mentally ill.
What few will do is seek to overcome evil with good. Too few will speak to the issue as one in which the gospel counters bloodshed with shed blood, and calls those who believe it to love their enemies, and pray for those who treat us with cruelty and hatred.
The church, even as it cringes in pain, cannot afford to retreat in fear or paranoia. We must walk out into the world and proclaim and demonstrate that the good of the gospel can overcome the darkest of evil. We must open our doors even wider and love those who do not love us. We must love those who might even hurt us. But, we do not fear anyone who can kill the body only. We trust Him who saves both soul and body forever.
The Apostle John would say something like this: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
*Photo Credit - Orange County Register