Since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut there have been numerous explanations offered to account for what happened. Television reporters and commentators have spoken about evil. One said that “evil rolled through” Newtown.
It does not take particular genius to see that mass murder is evil but it is important that we understand that evil is not something that rolls or just appears in otherwise innocent bucolic places. Evil is something that fallen creatures do. Scripture explains that the Evil One had already fallen. The Evil One made use of the serpent in order to tempt the first image bearers. As the Reformed theologian Caspar Olevianus said, Adam made a false covenant with Satan and repudiated the covenant the Lord had made with him. Adam accepted the Liar’s offer but instead of eternal life and glory through obedience Adam earned death and corruption through disobedience. He is our father and we are his heirs.
At the birth of Jesus, the Evil One sought to destroy him in his infancy. In his attempt to eliminate the One who could destroy him, he waged war on infant boys through King Herod. Our Lord Jesus confronted the reign of the Evil One in the world through weakness. The Evil One attempted to seduce the Second Adam as he had the first. Again he offered The Man that which was not his to give on condition that the Last Adam should make covenant with him. Jesus rebuked him,
Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and lhim only shall you serve’ (Matt 4:10; ESV)
In response, the Evil One unleashed a sort of hell on earth. Compared to the rest of redemptive history before and after the advent of Christ, there was a dramatic spike in demonic activity during the last three years of Jesus’ earthly life. It seems, in the gospels, as if demons were everywhere. Apparently they had been present prior to Jesus’ arrival, almost as if they were waiting for his, expecting him but we see him in the gospel confronted and confronting real, spiritual evil.
The Evil One does not always operate through serpents, demons, and politicians. He also operates through respected groups and noisy crowds. Even though Jesus did only righteousness through his entire life, bringing deliverance to the captives, healing to the lame, and bringing life to the dead, the respected Pharisees sought to murder him. After his trial, the crowd, largely the same that had just hailed him as a hero and conquerer, shouted for the release of the criminal Bar-Abbas and cried for Jesus’ blood. That was evil and the work of the Evil One.
After the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Evil did not disappear. Defeated decisively at the cross, he continued to lash out. Jesus being no longer available he attacked him in absentia by attacking his body, the church. He operated through Caesar and through the Pharisees, and heretics. After the close of the apostolic age, with the death of the Apostle John in the 90s, the Evil One continued his assault upon Jesus, shedding blood, demanding outward conformity to Roman society upon pain of death.
The Revelation to the Apostle John is the story of the vain, bloody attempts of the Evil to undo what was accomplished on the cross. The clock is running. The length of the chain is fixed. The heavenly city has received her king and his day of glory approaches.
Until then we live in world where humans continued to be animated by the Evil One, where death and destruction follow in his wake. This fact does not absolve the human actors. They, even the mentally ill, make free choices. Those choices are comprehended within the good, if inscrutable, providence of our good God. When, in the face of evil acts, we doubt his goodness we need only look at the evil of the cross. The righteous Jesus took it up for us. We have no place to shake our fist at him.
There are any number of proximate causes of and responses to the evil acts we saw this week in Newtown. Instead of de-humanizing people by refusing to hold them responsible for their actions, we can go back to treating people as human beings made in the image of God by holding them responsible for their actions. It wasn’t all that long ago that children went to school, people went shopping, and movie goers sat in relative safety. These outbursts of violence need not become the new normal. We can choose to face difficult truths and react responsibly.
As we analyze horrible actions like the one in Newtown, we need to reckon with the unseen spiritual power that animates them. We need also to remember that there is a profound response to evil: prayer. One of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is “deliver us from [the] evil [one] (Matt 6:13). In the end it matters not whether we say “evil” or “the Evil One.” They are the same thing. There is no vague force “out there” called evil. Evil is what the Evil One brings and it’s what we do when we ally ourselves with him instead of allying ourselves with the Second Adam, King Jesus.
Finally, King Jesus is a Savior who answers such prayers and rescues the helpless from the kingdom of the Evil One. Jesus’ is a kingdom of those, who, by God’s grace and Spirit, have been led to recognize the evil within themselves, who have named it, turned from it, and turned in trust and hope to him for deliverance and free acceptance with God. There is only one alternative to evil and it is not “good” but the Good One, who did righteousness for his people, who faced down the Evil One at the cost of his own life. Let Newtown be another reminder of our need for a Savior before the kingdom is consummated and the time of salvation draws to a a thunderous close.