“I have come to deep waters and the flood sweeps over me…”
(Psalm 69:2 ESV)
This week we are saddened by the tragedy that has fallen upon us in Tucson, AZ. Six people were killed on Saturday, including a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge, and 14 were injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Seemingly overshadowed by this is the school shooting in Omaha, where the Vice Principle was killed, and the student/shooter took his own life. Such tragedy drives us to our knees, and we remember in prayer the families and friends of those who were lost or injured. To make matters worse, the vultures from Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church are now protesting the memorial services and celebrating the violence. We can feel, in times like this, like the Psalmist, that we’re sinking in the mire, the floodwaters are coming, and we are weary in crying out to God.
Unfortunately, while many are praying, what gets the most attention right now is the finger pointing and blame gaming that’s going on. Some are quick to blame gun laws and call for tighter restrictions. This was all we heard for months after Columbine. Others are blaming “ultra-conservative political rhetoric,” and are suggesting that we need greater control over the content of talk radio and political speech. “Hate-Speech” legislation is already being drafted, but if its anything like what other nations have, will be open to interpretation and will greatly restrict even what is said in the pulpit.
The truth is no amount of gun legislation or restriction on political rhetoric would have stopped these events. These men were lost, their hearts and minds were darkened, and they were bent on inflicting harm and terror on the lives of others. New laws will only restrict the freedoms of those who keep the law. As comedian Brad Stine once put it,
When did banning anything ever work? We banned liquor once in this country and that worked like a charm didn’t it folks? You couldn’t find a drink in the roaring twenties could ya? You see that’s the problem with the banning thing, people think if you change the external suddenly everybody will start being nice to each other. If it works so well, let’s not stop there, let’s not ban guns: let’s ban crime.
Every external restriction we place on ourselves in order to save us from ourselves will eventually fail. This world is a broken place, in desperate need of salvation. We don’t need new laws, we need new hearts.
Still, the world is not as evil as it could be. I compare our world today with the description we find in Genesis 6, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” I am not being pessimistic, simply realistic. Ours is a broken world, subject to evil, captive to sin, usurped by despotic power, in need of the redeeming and healing grace of God.
One of the lessons we learn in confirmation is that God’s grace restrains us from sin. We are, in our sin, Totally Depraved, that is, unable to do anything that is not tainted by sin. But we are not utterly depraved. We are not as bad as we can possibly be. God’s grace keeps us from coming to that point. This is known as God’s common grace. Cornelius Plantinga describes is like this:
If all human sewers gushed full force all the time, life would end in a miserable flood of evil. That is why God checks the floods. He holds them back. He partly plugs the sewers. As an army corps of engineers controls the pollution of an oil spill in the ocean, so God controls human pollution by laws and civilization, by customs and teachings and the good influence of believers.
Such common grace, while saving us from the greatest of evil in our hearts, cannot save us from ourselves. We need new hearts and minds. We need forgiveness, redemption, to be reconciled to God. We need nothing less than God’s grace to save us and give us new life. That grace, and not another law, is what will transform our culture, our society, our world. That grace, which redeems and strengthens us in the midst of evil, is the only thing that will save us.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see.