“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It’s time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” — Ronald Reagan
The words come more slowly after a tragedy like the one America witnessed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut late last week.
Of course, any number of people have done their utmost to politicize what’s happened. That’s fine — human beings are what they are. In the wake of any crisis, there are the unscrupulous few that are going to look for an opportunity here and there.
We’re not going to get into the policy discussions. The lessons of Sandy Hook are not ones where we can simply prescribe a law and magically fix things.
The problems run much more deeply than this.
Often times, people will point towards places such as Somalia or Haiti, and wonder how God could permit such great suffering among human beings. How can a merciful and watchful God permit suffering? How can an all-knowing God allow injustice? How can an all-powerful God refuse to alleviate these conditions?
Where, people may ask, is God?
Reflecting on the condition of America, it’s easy to ask that question over and over. Too often, it’s easy to replace God with action — and as a society, too often that answer comes from our government.
Before we wander too far off track, it’s important to know that government is neither a force for good nor evil. Rather, it is a force that when applied justly and in a balanced fashion, protects our liberties and prevents our laws from wandering into license or locking us into tyrannical despotism — concepts our Founding Fathers understood well.
Too often, in America we look around not for God, but rather at “the god that failed” — government misapplied to treat social wounds, perceived or otherwise.
It is very easy to observe “the god that failed” when we discuss welfare, failed inner city projects, housing developments that deteriorate and capture the families therein, gang violence in supposedly “gun free” zones, education systems trapping students in the lowest common denominator, red tape that stifles economic entrepreneurship.
These earthly solutions are not evidence of the absence of God, but of the presence of “the god that failed” — and when the solutions to our earthly problems result in the intrusion of worldly institutions, the less room there is for God to be seen.
Every Christmas, we are reminded that our Savior came to earth in one of the most remote regions of the Roman Empire, born in the poorest and humblest of conditions. Jesus Christ born in a manger was God’s witness to the poor.
The Jews of the time sought a militant Messiah — a political Messiah who would deliver political salvation through a political state. It was precisely this false hope in “the god that failed” which brought Christ to tears in Luke 19, where Christ prophesied over Jerusalem and predicted its fall.
Instances of great suffering — whether they are in places such as Haiti or Somalia, or whether they are in places such as Sandy Hook — are not evidence that God is not listening, or that God is not aware of the great suffering. God weeps with us, Christ shared that pain on the cross, and the Holy Spirit still pours forth.
It is the great absence of God that brings about suffering, and especially the senseless sort of suffering that has no purpose.
This Christmas, with the uncertainty here at home and the violence felt abroad in places such as Haiti, Syria, in China where Christians are still persecuted today, Zimbabwe, and other places where the body of believers suffer, let us pray and work towards the presence of God in these communities.
The solution for the problems of this world will never be the presence of more laws, but rather the solution God proscribed: the presence of Christ.