In the second installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Alfred the butler gives a chilling description of the Joker:
“Perhaps this is a man you don’t fully understand. … Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
The world now knows the name of James Holmes, the loner graduate student who opened fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 and wounding dozens more.
He had dyed his hair red, and later told police he was the Joker.
In the aftermath of the shooting, the dominant cultural discussion – following shock and horror – has followed two streams. The first is gun control. The idea is that this nightmare, along with others like it, calls for new laws.
The other cultural current is, “How could God allow this?”
Both conversations need to wrestle with the same reality, a word that is often airbrushed from our rhetoric.
The medieval Christian philosopher Boethius aptly noted that “evil is not so much an infliction as a deep-set infection.”
In 1973, psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a book with the provocative title, Whatever Became of Sin? His point was that sociology and psychology tend to avoid terms like “evil” or “immorality” and “wrongdoing.” Menninger detailed how the theological notion of sin became the legal idea of crime and then slid further from its true meaning when it was relegated to the psychological category of sickness.
We need the word back.
Why? Because God was not behind what happened in Aurora, much less responsible for it.
A person was.
Philip Yancey, a writer who has invested much of his life exploring these issues, was contacted by a television producer after the death of Princess Diana to appear on a show and explain how God could have possibly allowed such a tragic accident.
“Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going 90 miles an hour in a narrow tunnel?” he asked the producer. “How, exactly, was God involved?”
From this, Yancey reflected on the pervasive nature of the mindset that our actions are actually an indictment of God.
Such as when boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini killed a Korean boxer in a match, the athlete said in a press conference, “Sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does.”
In a letter to a Christian family therapist, a young woman told of dating a man and becoming pregnant. She wanted to know why God allowed that to happen to her.
In her official confession, when South Carolina mother Susan Smith pushed her two sons into a lake to drown, she said that as she did it, she went running after the car as it sped down the ramp screaming, “Oh God! Oh God, no! ... Why did you let this happen!”
Yancey raises the decisive question by asking,
“What exactly was the role God played in a boxer pummeling his opponent, a teenager abandoning her virtue, or a mother drowning her children?”
God let us choose, and we did, and our choices have brought continual pain and heartache and destruction.
The recuperating victims, the families of the deceased, and all who were traumatized by that night in Aurora deserve our prayers and anything else we can offer to serve.
But make no mistake.
Holmes was, indeed, the Joker. And no gun law, much less God, has anything to do with his evil.
James Emery White
James Emery White, Wrestling with God (InterVarsity Press).
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy.
Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin?
Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.