Why Are We Surprised By Random Acts of Evil?

Ever since I heard the news of Friday’s theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I’ve felt like there is a dark cloud looming over me. The horrifying tragedy of 12 people dying so suddenly and senselessly has left me preoccupied with grief and shock.

Like many others, I’ve read countless news updates that are slowly crafting a more comprehensive picture of the shooter. I’m glued with curiosity to the details of his life, trying to understand just how this could happen; just what life story leads to this ending.

My Facebook news feed is filled with comments on the merits of gun control and links to blog posts trying to answer the question, “Why would God allow this to happen?” People are rallying to join fan pages of the surviving victims who remain in the hospital.

All of this points to a tangible collective feeling of helplessness in the air.

New evil shocks us.

Yet, on a day to day basis, we are generally unphased by existing evil:  oppressive political regimes, extensive child trafficking, violent gender and religious oppression, devastating human rights violations. We are all aware of these pervasive evils in the world, yet we don’t hang our heads in sorrow for days at a time thinking about them like we did after Friday’s shooting. We don’t hug the news daily searching for those answers. Why?

We have simply accepted existing evil.

Our portfolio of mentally accepted evil in the world teeters with a fine balance, over which we subconsciously feel we have some control.  We tell ourselves that the world is a terrible place and give ourselves the false sense of security that we understand just what we are dealing with.  We hesitantly embrace that reality and then pick our coping tools – faith, addictions, ignorance, whatever the case may be. Then we use those tools to keep the reality of evil at arm’s length.

Evil becomes comfortable at arm’s length. Remarkably, disconcertingly comfortable.

On days like Friday, the tidy understanding we think we maintain of just how bad the world is gets obliterated. Our coping tools lose power. We become vulnerable in the realization that the status quo of evil may come to include us at any time.

New evil shocks us because evil’s presence in the world suddenly becomes uncomfortable again. We remember it.  It becomes as shocking as it should have been all along.

In a couple of weeks, the news reports will slow down. The internet searches for the shooter’s name will decrease. We’ll slowly gather our coping tools again and regain our false sense of control.

But that’s not where I want to be.

As a Christian, I don’t want to be comfortable with evil. I don’t want to effectively close my eyes to it until new evil shakes me. And as a Christian parent, I actually want my children to see the evil in the world, because here is what is at stake:

If we more consciously grapple with the reality and severity of evil in the world, we immediately become more dependent on God for hope. We immediately understand why Jesus’ death on the cross is so desperately needed. We immediately open our eyes to just how sweet the promise of God’s eventual victory over evil really is. And we immediately feel more compelled to be the hands and feet of Jesus to alleviate what evil we can on earth in the meantime.

We may always be shocked by “new” evil, but not because we should be;  only because we were too comfortable with evil all along.

2 thoughts on “Why Are We Surprised By Random Acts of Evil?”

  1. There are many crosscurrents involved in the shooting in Aurora, spiritual and secular. You say as a Christian you don’t want to be comfortable with evil. Understood, but the secular world doesn’t recognize evil exists so it can’t recognize the enormous problem manifested in the Aurora shootings.

    But here’s the real difficulty, beyond whether the events may be evil or not. Aurora is inside the United States, world hunger, sex trafficking, AIDS, repressive regimes (North Korea) and all the rest are outside the United States and offer little opportunity to steer public policy (the media) or gain toe-holds of political power (politicians and, again, the media). Aurora is an opportunity to gain political leverage and power. 3500 infant deaths per day in Africa due to malaria (a tragedy, but not evil) is of little interest to morally arrogant Americans seeking political power over the rest of us.

    1. Philosophically, I agree – the secular world shouldn’t be able to claim “evil” because without a God there is no moral standard. However, most people have no trouble using the term despite the logical inconsistency. And yes, our national interests are certainly very guided by the media and politics. The evils on which we focus are almost spoon fed to us. It is precisely this that I don’t want to be comfortable with. As Christians, we should be moral lights to the world regardless of what is closest and easiest for us to consider.

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