How Do We Explain Senseless Violence?

The sunrise this morning brought with it news of another tragedy: this time, a senseless act of violence at a concert in Las Vegas. At last count, 50 people are dead and more than 200 are injured. All at the hands of a lone gunman who perched himself high above a crowd and allowed sadness and anger to rain down in bullets. Though this is the most deadly mass shooting in our country's history, it was not certainly not the first, nor will it be the last. Whenever something like this happens, regardless of scale, we are left with questions that have no easy answers.

The day after a bomb was detonated at the 2013 Boston Marathon, my son and I talked about terrorism. It was a challenge to answer questions from a 9-year-old about violence and hatred, but doing so pointed us towards the only real solution...and the conversation helped me as much as it helped him. I detailed the conversation in a blog post back then, and I repost it here because it is relevant any time when evil rears its ugly head. Specifics of the shooting in Las Vegas can be substituted for those of the Boston bombing: the questions are the same, and so is the Answer.

Photo: David Becker/Getty via  ABC News

Photo: David Becker/Getty via ABC News

Yesterday evening, I sat in my living room with my 9-year-old son, Evan. My wife had the news turned on and, naturally, they were running a story on the Boston Marathon bombing. As Evan tuned in and watched the video footage in silence, Erica looked at him and asked, “Do you know what is happening here? Did you hear about this at school?”

Evan replied that he had heard about the bombing, and proceeded to recount his understanding of the tragedy. He pretty much knew all he needed to. Some sicko planted a couple bombs in a crowd and blew some people to bits.

As we moved to the kitchen table to enjoy microwaved hotdogs and leftover corn-on-the-cob, I asked Evan if he had any questions about what he saw on the news.

“Do they still make bombs that are black and a sphere and have a string sticking out the top that you light, and that can also float?”

“No, buddy. I don’t think they really look like that anymore.”

“Oh.” Pause. Then, “Dad?”

“Yes, Evan?”

“Why would someone want to bomb a race?”

And there was the question I knew would come. It was the question that our country was asking on Monday. It was the question that seemed to awake and roll around in our collective consciousness first thing Tuesday morning, even before we managed to hit the snooze alarm to delay the start of a new day.

Why?

And as we all ask ourselves this question, knowing that no answer will ever truly satisfy us, we find that it is the same question we ask ourselves every day in a thousand different ways.

  • Why would someone bomb the Boston Marathon?
  • Why would someone open fire in an elementary school?
  • Why would she cheat on me?
  • How could he snip the spinal cords and murder countless babies?
  • Why would they fly planes into the World Trade Center?
  • Why did he kill millions of Jews?
  • Why does he hit me?
  • Why?…

As my son stared up at me from behind those adorable little boy glasses, I gave the only answer that I could.

“Because we all need a savior, Evan. Whoever did this was so broken, so lost, so hurt, so angry, that he didn’t know what else to do. Whatever he was thinking or feeling, I guess he just thought that if he hurt a bunch a people he would somehow feel better.”

“And does he feel better now?” my son quickly asked.

“Maybe. For a minute. He did what he planned to do. But there is always more loneliness and hurt and pain. He won’t feel better for long. None of us do. Which is exactly why we need a savior. We all need someone who is bigger and better and greater than anything we can ever do or think to try to make ourselves feel ok.”

“You mean Jesus?”

“Yes. See, bud, there are lots of people in this world who don’t believe Jesus is who he said he is. They don’t believe that he is the King. So without a real King, all these people just try to do whatever they want and believe whatever they want to try and make themselves feel better. Some people do great things with their lives. Things like curing diseases and helping the poor and trying to make people smile.”

“And like creating video games?”

“Exactly. But other people do horrible things, like bullying or hurting people.”

“Like the bomb.”

“Like the bomb. But the thing is, Evan, the good things and the bad things, they are all the same. The horrible things seem horrible to us, but even the good things aren’t enough to save us. Even the best person in world is broken. Even the happiest kid in the world, like you, is going to smack his sister every once in a while. Every single one of us is the same. It’s hard to imagine, but you and I are no better than the people who made those bombs. Because unless we let the King be the King, then it means we are trying to be the king. And you can’t have two kings.”

“Like in chess?”

“Check mate.”

“But the queen is more powerful in chess…”

“Ok, so not like chess. But when something like this happens, it doesn’t surprise me. It makes me sad, but it doesn’t surprise me. See, unless people believe in Jesus; unless people let him be their King; unless people in the world start to realize that we really do need someone to save us – that we will never be able to save ourselves; unless we can do that, then there will always be bombs and killings and sister-smackings.”

“So….if someone had told that guy about Jesus, then maybe he wouldn’t have made those bombs and killed those people?”

Exactly.

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Header photo credit David Becker/Getty via Rolling Stone

DAN JACKSON

Dan is a pastor, author, and speaker. He is the founder and lead contributor for My Ordinary Faith and currently serves as a Campus Pastor for Southland Christian Church in Georgetown, KY.