We’ve reached the end of our series, Help my unbelief, and celebrate Ash Wednesday this coming week as the season of Lent begins. Lent is intended as a time of deep inner reflection about God and our connection with God.
During Lent, many of us will dig deeper into our beliefs about God while pondering the question, “Just what do I believe?” After all, how can we not believe that God is the creative power in control of the natural world? How can we not believe that God created sunrises and sunsets, waterfalls, and waterfowl?
Ah, but there are people. Humans who piss in streams and throw their fast-food packaging out their windows for others to pick up. People who exploit others for their own gain. People who lie about anything and everything to get what they want. All of this makes us skeptical and suspicious. So why doesn’t God do something about those people?
For most of us, the worst takes place elsewhere. So while we may be startled, we’re thankful we weren’t directly affected. While pictures and headlines may tell frightening stories, they’re not life-threatening until it happens nearby.
For example, my interest in unmanned objects flying over North America increased significantly when a U.S. pilot shot one down over Lake Huron near the Michigan border. So far, these objects appear to be non-threatening and mostly annoying. But our lack of clarity leaves ample room for conspiracy theories to gain traction. What is going on? Should we be worried?
However, far more serious and real is the increase in gun violence that seems to be happening everywhere at once. Again, evil can seem more like something that happens elsewhere. That is until it comes closer to home.
This past week a gunman killed three students on the campus of Michigan State University. He critically wounded five others before taking his own life. The murdered students were teenagers when our communities were shocked by the killing of high school youth in nearby Oxford.
We take notice when evil comes that close to home. We respond we take sides, we make choices, and we wonder. How is God good but allows so much evil to happen?
This question has baffled humans since the beginning, and we find an explanation in scripture passed down through the generations. The story was told by elders to grandchildren and shared around campfires for centuries before it was written down for our reflection centuries later.
However, the story reads more like a Disney children’s movie ad than the hard-hitting, action-packed cinema that keeps us glued to a screen. It is a “once upon a time” story with few lines. Nevertheless, each word gets surgically analyzed, and its meaning is interpreted in an effort to shape our daily lives. Still, for most of us, it’s just a story.
As chapter three of Genesis begins, God has created the very first humans. In two chapters, nothing became something, and science tells us that millions of years passed as life flourished on earth. How ever, debating over missing details of what happened how and when distracts us from our earlier question. How did it come to be that humans choose to destroy each other and the planet we depend on for life?
As soon as they had eaten it, they were given understanding and realized that they were naked.
According to the story, God warned humanity that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Some knowledge, the logic goes, leads to temptations that can weigh on our curiosity and wear us down. And we’re born curious. After all, this is how we learn to heed the warning of our server not to touch the plate they put in front of us using a hot pad. But we touch it anyway.
Googling “What does it mean to lose your innocence” yields this definition: “A loss of innocence is usually thought of as an experience or period in a person’s life that leads to a greater awareness of evil, pain, and/or suffering in the world around them.”
And that’s what we learn from scripture. One person crosses a line God drew in the sand despite warnings, and recruits another person to join her. One lesson that emerges is that humans always have a choice when inflicting suffering on others.
But this explanation doesn’t fully explain a shooters’ motives, even when the prosecutor lays out a compelling argument.
According to the New York Times, Payton Gendron, age 19, apologized for killing ten innocent people because of skin color. And he blamed his rampage on the content he read on social media. Nevertheless, the Judge ruled that the shooter deserved no mercy and would never be free again.
Blaming his loss of innocence on social media doesn’t reverse the damage, and the Judge ruled that there would be no second chances. Like Eve choosing to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, the consequences are irreversible.
Law enforcement made the arrest, and prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to convince jurors to agree on guilty. This case is cut and dry. The perpetrator is over 18, of sound mind, and made his decision without coercion.
Are there no laws against posting content that influence disastrous decisions? Not really, since otherwise, case backlogs would overflow with accusations against a long list of influencers. And many of the names on such a list hold enormous power over large numbers of people who take their rants much more seriously than they do. But is there a line in the sand, drawn by God, that some chose to cross?
If so, why doesn’t God build a wall instead of drawing a line?
Barnabas Piper offers this assurance in the Afterword of his book, “If you hang on to your relationship with God, you will find happiness beyond explanation on the other side.” Perhaps this is all that’s left after Eve’s crossed the very first line. We need to “hang in there” and believe that God’s grace is sufficient for all of us.
Perhaps this is where faith, belief, and trust converge. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we hold onto as much belief as we can muster, that God is still in control of the outcome, even after one of us crosses the line.
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Content for this series is based in part on:
Barnabas Piper. Help My Unbelief: Why doubt is not the enemy of faith © Barnabas Piper, 2020. Charlotte : The Good Book Company.
Jesse McKinley and Dan Higgins. “Buffalo Gunman Sentenced to Life in Emotional and Dramatic Hearing.” © New York Times, Feb. 15, 2023. Retrieved from: link