More Silence, Please: The Evil of Evil at Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook Elementary School (photo from WQAD8, from Newton Patch)

There is a lot being said about the Sandy Hook shooting right now. Conversations are happening around dinner tables, Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of empathetic words, and there is an explosion of blog posts. Each of these, in their own way, is an effort to comprehend Adam Lanza’s decision to murder his mother, then twenty young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and then commit suicide.

These explanations vary widely, from many sources: the psychological, the religious, the criminal investigators, the sociological, and so on. Everyone from parents at home to the chattering class on our TVs has come up with a way of ‘making sense’ of this tragedy. Others, having already digested the obvious import of this horror, have rapidly begun to promote their agendas, seeking to harness the emotional power of this moment to further various causes.

All of this searching for context, for meaning, and most importantly, for hope, is good. It is part of the healing process. It begins to resolve the hurt and the pain of this disorienting disaster. The prayers and the compassionate words are particularly appropriate.

But in the never-ending, rapid-fire news cycle, given the instantaneous rush to be the first to know on social media, because of the constant flow of images: we are so easily distracted.

And so we need to pause.

To be as clear as possible, here are two points that are currently neglected:

  1. We are witnessing a mad rush to make sense of something which, fundamentally, cannot make sense.
  2. There are some truths about evil that we can only learn in silence.

Point 1: Evil Does Not Make Sense

In an often ignored section of the Old Testament, buried in the middle of Jeremiah, is a heart-wrenching question from God:

Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves, to cut off from you man and woman, infant and child, from the midst of Judah, leaving you no remnant? (Jeremiah 44:7, ESV)

Don’t get derailed here: yes, God has full knowledge of why we sin – He knows everything. And yes, this question is rhetorical, intended to persuade the hearers to turn from their sin. But there is still a sense in which God is asking, “why are you doing this evil? How do your actions make sense?”

Take a moment to think about that.

Part of the evil of evil is its incomprehensibility. We long to make meaning of the world and our lives. Evil frustrates this desire.

To use a boxing metaphor: Evil hits us in the gut – and as we double-over in pain, we get a powerful blow to the head, knocking us to the ground. When faced with the horror of a deranged man firing multiple rounds into a classroom full of adorable, precious, innocent six year olds, we just cannot bear the full weight of this picture.

This kind of evil does not make sense.

And so hasty explanations are not what we need. We may want to pretend that we understand this evil, but we do not, and we need to admit this if we are ultimately going to learn anything important from this experience.

Point 2: There are some truths about evil that we can only learn in silence.

Poetry can engage our very selves in a way that other genres cannot. One of my favorite short pieces is Psalm 131, which reads:

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD

from this time forth and forevermore.

This is a passage worth memorizing and meditating on in times like this.

Settling into this poem is good for the soul. It reshapes us, humbling us, bringing peace, offering hope, connecting us with God’s presence, and creating space for taking in, bit by bit, the reality of the evil that was revealed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Turn off the TV, shutdown your computer, put down your cell phone, power off your tablet device, set aside your e-reader. We are drowning in technology and electronic communication. These tools can serve great good, but they can also trivialize and anesthetize us from the harshness of life.

If we don’t take some time in silence, then the evil of Sandy Hook is magnified as it becomes a kind of perverse entertainment, an opportunity for profit, a crass talking point, even an escapism from our own lives. But all of this is the opposite of what we need right now!

Final Point: Unless you live in Sandy Hook, prefer being to doing.

If you live in this particular community, there are lots of practical things to be done to serve your neighbors, like sitting in living rooms and crying, and dropping off meals, and buying plane tickets for the people who are coming into town for the funerals.

But for the rest of us, if you have felt affected by this tragedy, the main thing is to be, and not to act, to think, and not to read one more news story about all the details. (Though if you feel led to give, there are a number of funds set up for this purpose).

This evil does not make sense. If we avoid silence then we are at great risk of responding badly to this horror.

My hope is that we will choose a different route. That we will decide to spend some time in silence, meditating on the words and stories of Scripture, that by God’s grace we might (very) slowly begin to have a little bit of understanding for what is currently inexplicable.