Parents and children are mown down in a holiday resort, young people are lured to a fast food outlet to be gunned down, disabled folk are stabbed in their care home and an elderly priest has his throat cut while conducting worship. And that’s just the last fortnight.
We cannot overstate the pain of loss or natural sense of outrage at such cruelty.
How should we begin to try and understand these things?
A first and perhaps natural response might be to look for someone or something to blame. But the waters quickly get cloudy here, for it’s not just the ‘terrorists’ who have blood on their hands. Air strikes kill and maim civilians. The most defenceless children in the world are terminated before they’re even born.
It’s fashionable to criticise organised religion but with the massive body count in popular movies we could ask if the entertainment industry is feeding people anything more edifying? Postmodern thought has left a moral and spiritual vacuum in which disturbed people can easily turn to the darkest human tendencies.
Allow me to share something from the very last page of the Bible. Revelation chs21 and 22 speak about the coming age when God concludes His judgement of humankind and ‘makes all things new’. It is described as a beautifully restored garden city in which people will live in heavenly peace with their Maker. Chapter 22 v 15 says this:
‘Outside are the dogs, those who practise magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practises falsehood.’
There is no place in the heavenly kingdom for those who commit murder! Elsewhere the Bible speaks of this ‘outside’ as a place of punishment and torment, it even gives it a name – Hell.
Some may find it a gratifying thought that there will one day be justice for ruthless killers but let’s not stop there for the Bible has more to say on this subject.
In the very first book of Genesis we find murder is nothing new. Among Adam and Eve’s first children Cain gave in to jealous resentment and killed his brother Abel. Thus Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount that we all need to keep our passions in careful check: ‘You have heard it said…anyone who murders will be subject to judgement…I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother without cause will be subject to judgement.’ (Matthew 5 v 21-22) He warns against harbouring murderous malice in our minds and hearts for its ultimate source is the devil! (John 8 v 44)
Christ Himself was no stranger to these things, becoming the victim of jealous spite hypocritically dressed up with religion. Yet the irony of the New Testament is that God saw fit to use the brutal slaying of His innocent Son at Golgotha to create a genuine religion involving peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and love. We can ask the ‘victim’ about these things for He has risen from death and on that last page of scripture promises ‘I am coming soon!’
The message of encouragement contained in the book of Revelation was originally written in times much like our own, when civilians were being butchered in the arena for sport. Against that grimly familiar backdrop of human pride and depravity the Bible speaks of hope and peace through Christ for those who repent and hold faithfully to Him.
Let me offer one more reference and it’s a lesser known instance from the Old Testament. Manasseh was possibly the worst ever king of Judah. Ignoring God’s Laws which his godly father Hezekiah had taught him, Manasseh embraced the cruel spirit of his neighbours and lowered himself to kill his own children in pagan rituals. We may find it amazing but 2 Chronicles 33 records how he sincerely turned from wicked things, humbled himself before God and found mercy and a reformed life. If ever there was a candidate for punishment ‘outside’ surely it was Manasseh, yet even this murderer found forgiveness!
Such is the grace of God. There is hope for those who kill, and for those of us who in anger may at times feel like killing!
Hope in the One Who was Himself killed but lives again.