God’s holy Law says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all he law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37–40). In the garden, our Lord symbolized his law with one command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16–17). The converse of that command is our Lord’s command to the young man in Luke 10:28, “Do this and live.” The Apostle Paul says that the “commandment promised life” (Rom 7:10). Remarkably and, apart from God’s mysterious providence, inexplicably, rather than freely choosing obedience and its consequence, life, we freely chose disobedience and its consequence: death. And thus through th.e disobedience of one man sin came into the world and through sin, death (Rom 5:12). Scripture says that things became ugly. Genesis 6:5–6 say “Yahweh saw that the wickedness of humanity was great in the earth” so much so that “every intention of the thoughts” of our hearts were “only evil continually.” It became so bad that Yahweh was said to have repented, as it were—it is a figure of speech. The sovereign omniscient, omnipotent, immutable, impassible God was not caught off guard—from having made us and “it grieved him to his heart.” Again, this is figurative language but the thoughtful reader takes the point of the narrative. Life was very ugly in those days. Yahweh resolved (as it were) to wipe out “the world that then was” (2 Peter 3:6) and, as it were, begin again and that is what he did. He redeemed a small remnant, a small church in Noah and his house. It was a sort of new creation after the fall.
As part of that new beginning, God promised:
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen 9:8–17; ESV).
Unlike the covenant that God made with Noah and his house, this covenant is cosmic in scope. It encompasses everything and everyone. He promised to restrain evil and the consequences of our sin until the final judgment flood. The next judgment will not be with water but fire (2 Pet 3:7–10). Until then, there shall be sin and death but only so much as God allows.
In 1924 Synod Kalamazoo of the Christian Reformed Church issued three points on this and related matters. In the 2nd point synod declared,
Concerning the second point, touching the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession, there is such a restraint of sin. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Belgic Confession, article 13 and 36, where it is taught that God through the general operations of his Spirit, without renewing the heart, restrains sin in its unhindered breaking forth, as a result of which human society has remained possible; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.
As bad as things can be in this fallen world, they are not as bad as they were in the days of Noah nor shall they be until our Lord Jesus comes. The God who spoke all things into being, who, in the second person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate for us and for our salvation, is restraining sin and its consequences.
That does not mean that there are no consequences. We were reminded of that last week as we have been reminded periodically in recent years. Evil remains. The consequences of the fall remain. Death is at work and our culture, our time, seems to have embraced death in a way that the West has not seen since before the Christians made their first missionary trips into Europe. We live in a post-Christian, post-Christendom world. Neo-paganism. We are witnessing a culture return to the superstitious and the stupid, to the magical, and to the pagan understanding of the value of life, and to the pagan accounts of the nature and meaning of existence. It was not long ago that just about every farmer’s child could tell you that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Very quickly our time and our culture has embraced other gods both old and new with other chief ends: pleasure, pain, power, control, and death.
Because of the medical learning accumulated over the centuries (not to be attributed causally or casually to “the Enlightenment”) some of the effects of the fall have been delayed temporarily. Actual physical death does not ordinarily come as quickly as it did even just a few years ago. We know to wash our hands—what geniuses we are! Gods all! We have antibiotics (for now). We see the effects of the fall, nevertheless, in other ways. The nuclear and extended family is decaying rapidly. We have overthrown the creational order and bizarrely declared that “gender” is a mere social construct with no relation to our birth sex. An onlooker would be forgiven for thinking that we have lost our collective minds.
The sexual revolution has, impelled by the self-esteem culture, has all but removed the received notion of family and parenting. Because Mom went to work, in the 70s we had “latch key” kids, i.e., children who returned from school to an empty house. Eventually, however, Mom and Dad came home. Then they did not. Through the 80s and 90s children increasingly came home to one parent and spent the weekends being shuttled between two angry adults competing for their children’s affections. By the early 2000s the kids were in charge and parenting was dead. By 2010, marriage was hip again but only for homosexuals and the transgendered. In the 70s homosexuals said that they merely wanted to be treated like other Americans. By the 2010s anyone who did not acquiesce to their radical re-definition of marriage was threatened with bankruptcy.
Forty years ago school shootings were virtually unknown. There were marksmanship programs, shooting clubs, Junior ROTC, and Boy Scout groups who regularly brought firearms to public schools and safely discharged them and yet there were no mass shootings. The 1966 University of Texas Tower shooting, in which 18 were randomly murdered was an ominous signal of things to come. The world’s two worst mass school shootings have been in Garissa, Kenya in which 148 people were murdered in 2015 and the 2014 Peshwar School shooting in Pakistan, in which 141 people were murdered. Indeed, the five worst mass shootings have been outside the U.S., a fact on which the American media does not seem to be minded to dwell [source]. Perhaps those facts do not fit the political-social narrative?
In my first junior high, there were rumors of “switch blades” and “zip guns” (made in shop class and propelled by rubber bands) and chains but mostly it was just talk. Hurt feelings were worked out after school and apart from bruised pride there was an occasional black eye. We never imagined school shootings, even though there were lots of active-duty and retired military in town and firearms of all sort were widely and easily available.
Why do we have mass-casualty school shootings? The answer to that question is enormously complex but their existence is a symptom of fundamental problem. As connected as we are children (apparently especially boys) feel alienated. Like sociopaths too many children seem to have lost the ability to identify with others as fellow humans. Having ditched God for self-esteem and Narcissus, we no longer regard others as “image bearers” but as opportunities for self-empowerment or revenge. We are so “enlightened” we have traded Jesus for Nietzsche. In 1973 Karl Menninger asked, “Whatever Became of Sin?” Already he could see therapeutic categories were swamping the very idea of personal moral responsibility. Jay Adams records stories in his work of psychiatric patients who were not actually mentally ill but who had learned to use the mental health system, such as it is, to evade personal responsibility. Yet we must say that mental illness is real and that, as a culture, we have quite failed to account for its realities. Our police officers spent a significant percentage of their time dealing with our refusal to hospitalize the insane and the addicted. Some major cities now how squads of police officers whose full-time job it is to police homeless camps populated by the addicted and the insane.
It is an indicator of where we are now that virtually no one seems to be blaming the most recent school shooter himself. Our general instinct seems to be not to demand a personal accounting. If we are not pagans then we are Pelagians. We blame everything but the actor. We blame his circumstances, his parenting, the schools, the authorities—to be sure there was a systemic failure here from law enforcement to social services to friends and caretakers—but not the actual murderer. He is presented sympathetically. We have lost a moral category. We seem only know two kinds now: “good people” and “monsters.” We no longer understand the banality of evil. Thus, for too many, it seems impossible for most to imagine taking the most obvious steps to address a manifest threat. We refuse to make schools more difficult to attack. We left Aaron Feis unarmed at Parkland High and so he defended the children with the only thing he had: his body. Legislators and administrators will not arm staff and teachers because that would be a tacit admission of the failure of late modernity and the social consequences of the banishment of God. The Boomers spent decades mocking Ozzie and Harriet (1950s), Leave It To Beaver (1950s and 60s), the Brady Bunch (1970s), and even The Cosby Show (1980s) but those worlds do not look that bad right now do they? Those who govern the most obvious targets are in group denial. The reality of sin, of evil, and of its violent manifestations does not fit their Modernist picture of themselves as models of progress and Enlightenment. The truth of the rising post-Christian barbarism does not compute.
Consider that since 1973 Americans have killed more than 50 million infants in utero. Did we think that we would be able virtually to go to war against Generation X and succeeding generations and they would not notice? Demographically we may think of the 20th century in terms of Dusters (those born around the dust bowl), Boomers (my generation), and Busters (the post-boomer generations, i.e., the GenXers, the Millennials, and GenZ). The Dusters are leaving this earth right now. The leading of edge of the Boomers, whom P. J. O’Rourke calls “the senior class” turns 74 this year. The next twenty years or so will see a dramatic wave of funerals (of whatever sort the Boomers design—they will certainly transform that as they have changed everything else they have touched). Socially, we will be awash in the wages of sin.
The consequence of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. Christians ought to take every prudent step. We ought to engage the culture around us with Law and the Good News. We ought to seek to be a voice of wisdom and sanity in foolish and insane times but at all events we must give clear witness to the truth of the resurrection and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ, who knows better than we what are the wages of sin. He voluntarily paid that price for all his people, even the death of the cross. Death is real but it is not the final reality. Christ alone is the remedy for isolation and swelling, murderous hatred. The resurrection is the inauguration of the final reality. Life wins. Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated the final reality and it shall be consummated. The road to the new creation, however, may be ugly. We seem to be on the other side of a cultural Bell Curve. Only God knows certainly. We know certainly that Jesus lives and that the Holy Spirit is still regenerating his elect through the foolishness of the preached gospel. God is still saving Noah and his household. Let us build the ark, as it were, with all deliberate speed and proclaim the coming judgment/salvation to this evil age.