Shootings, Gun Control, and Mental Illness

As our nation continues its deep mourning, outrage, and questioning, it is apparent that most do not want to face the personal ramifications of what has happened in Charleston, SC at Emanuel AME. Suggestions as to what moved a young man to take nine lives so violently, intentionally, and impassively are beginning to flow from the minds of pundits across the country with astounding frequency. But are they really touching the truth about us all?

Of course, some will immediately take advantage of this situation to promote tougher gun control while refusing to recognize that only a minuscule fraction of guns are used for this kind of violence.

Others are rallying around the mental illness flag insisting this kind of behavior is aberrant, and surely the sign of a mental dysfunction that could have been avoided had the right therapy been available for him.

Still others are pointing at poor parenting, poverty, and loneliness as the reasons Dylann Roof planed and executed cold-blooded murder.  

What each of these, and many more, have in common is they shift the blame from Roof's heart to other causes. By so doing, they protect the rest of us from the ugliest of truths: the pervasive presence of sinful depravity in the human heart. We can't allow it to be said that there is, in the core of every human heart, a great, dark hole where the seeds of pride, selfishness, and hatred have already been sown. We won't acknowledge that there is some Roof in everyone who comes into this world. Simply put, we refuse to recognize that we all are born sinful, and enter life with a spiritual predisposition to think and act in ways that are ultimately harmful to ourselves, our families, and our society. All are sinners, and all sin, and all have sinned and fallen far short of the standard we would set for ourselves as a society, and certainly of the standard God has set and demands we meet. 

I am not for a minute suggesting that the consequences of every sin are the same. That is absurd and no one I know thinks that way. What I am saying is Roof's actions grew out of the same sinful source that we all are born with. And while it may be true that counseling, love, and better circumstances could have prevented his violent act, it is far too shallow to think that he is of a different breed than the rest of us. We simply must recognize we can't cage sin with therapy. we can't change the heart with money. We can't transform sinners into saints with human love, but God can do all those things through his gracious, transforming love, extended to us in Jesus Christ. 

Political pundits on all sides will use this terrible event to lobby for their pet project or theory, and in so doing will give the vast majority of us reasons to feel bad for Roof while smugly reminding ourselves that we are not like him. After all, we're not mentally ill. And we're much more prudent with our guns. And we live in economically advantaged neighborhoods. And our kids would never do that kind of thing.

But be careful. Despite all the rhetoric there lies a singular truth: “The  heart is more  deceitful than all else and is desperately  sick;   Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9). The only cure for sin's sickness is death ... the death of Jesus Christ, who through his glorious resurrection secured a "new life" for all who will come in reasoned faith and entrust their lives to him. He promises to cleanse us, to transform us, and finally to bring us to live with him on a new earth where only righteousness will dwell. That's the "therapy" everyone needs, and it is only found in the Gospel of Jesus.