On July 22, 2011, Norway was rocked by a heinous crime that remains an open wound. Anders Breivik, a 32-year-old terrorist armed with tactical gear, firearms and bombs, murdered a total of 77 innocent civilians, mostly teenagers enjoying their summer camp.
Breivik had long planned the massacre hoping to stir up sympathies for his political ideologies. His trial began on April 16, 2012 and lasted until June 19, 2012. He was found sane and guilty by a panel of five judges. This convicted mass murderer was sentenced to “preventative detention” for 21 years. The sentence can be repeatedly extended by 5 years as long as he is considered a “threat” to society. He received the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law.
Only weeks following the tragedy in Norway, the world once again looked on in stunned disbelief at mass barbarism in a “first world” nation—The United Kingdom.
On August 6, 2011, random acts of looting and rioting broke out in London and spread to cities and towns across England. Pedestrians were attacked. Small businesses, homes, and even a double-decker bus were randomly burned or destroyed by flash mobs of predominately young people, some only nine or ten years old.
The so-called “Blackberry Riots” (because they were organized by cell phone texts and social media) lasted until August 10th and resulted in the arrests of 3,100 people. Some of England’s finest young leaders were later determined to have taken part in the senseless rampages of destruction. Many were not driven by anger or rage as much as by boredom and the thrill of taking part in illicit activities along with their peers.
The riots shook the sensibilities of the once proud and proper nation and generated ongoing debate among political, social and academic figures about the causes and context in which they happened. Many blamed the rioters' behavior on structural factors such as racism, classism, and economic decline, as well as cultural factors like criminality, hooliganism, the breakdown of social morality and gang culture.
In a nation that gave us a harvest of great teachers, missionaries and reformers such as Mueller, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Spurgeon, Taylor, Lewis and Stott, we now find only the dried husk of a once vibrant religious landscape hidden beneath crippling political correctness. Church attendance has almost vanished. Christianity is more a target for mockery and derision than a force of cultural influence.
Parallel to the decline of Christian faith, the judicial systems of both England and Norway have become so liberalized that they appear to slant in favor of criminals, not victims.
Which brings me to our own troubled shores.
The December14th massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was a horrifying display of evil inside an elementary school that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults. It was the eighteenth such shooting in the U.S. thus far in 2012. The senseless rampage caused the same shock and dismay to us as the mass shooting in Norway and the Blackberry Riots of England caused their countrymen. We have finally been shaken from our national slumber.
The “why” will be debated for years to come. My guess is that every explanation except a biblical one will be given credence. Sin and the solution to it will once again be ignored or viewed with contempt.
While it is not difficult for Christians to understand the cause of the moral, social and cultural decay that now rots Western nations, the world is blind to it. Man is sinful and therefore needs either a sword or a Savior to ensure a lawful, orderly and peaceful society. The sword may constrain man’s evil desires, but only the Savior can transform them.
Sin is the manifestation of the evil that resides in the heart of every man. When sin is unleashed, the resulting wickedness knows no bounds. Without the power of the sword or the transforming power of God Almighty, many laws are useless.
American malls, military bases, colleges, churches, high schools and now, elementary schools are no longer safe from cold-blooded killers who desire to go out in a blaze of horror by harming innocent people. Dare we call that damnable sin? Do we call for government to wield the sword of punishment?
The Newtown murders will drive the well-intentioned but misguided to demand that lawmakers fix the problem. More gun control will be the balm of choice, but don’t be deceived. God cannot be mocked. Regardless of the laws upon laws passed to stop the violence, it will not end.
Return of the Sword
The government has a God-given role to be the bearer of the sword.
“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).
Like Norway and England, we have liberalized our justice system to allow criminals to operate with little fear of consequences. It has been reported that Anders Breivik has already registered a formal complaint regarding his uncomfortable prison conditions. Really? Numerous American mass murderers are sitting comfortably behind bars awaiting trial even though there are plenty of eyewitnesses to their crimes.
It is time for the sword to be drawn and used to punish the wrongdoer. It is time for those who conduct terrorist acts in our military bases, in our theatres, in our malls or in our schools to be afraid. In so doing, the sin of man will not cease, but it will be constrained.
Return to the Savior
The sinful heart of man needs to be transformed, made submissive to the laws of man and of God. The Church has a God-given role to lovingly preach the transforming power of the Good News.
The Church—that is, people like you and me—must return to evangelizing the lost, sharing both our guilt to sin and eternal judgment and the grace and redemption found only in Christ. We must be true salt and light in a culture darkened by evil.
As government relaxes our criminal justice system and culture rejects the Gospel, two significant constraints are gone: fear of earthly punishment from the State and fear of the eternal judgment of God for our sin.
Do we really expect more laws to be the answer?
As we approach the celebration of Christmas, may we humbly recognize our desperate need for the Christ Child. Without a revival—without people en masse submitting to God’s laws and receiving His grace—our nation will continue to suffer the consequences of societal sin, encountering the sort of unbridled evil we saw in Newtown.