The week began with Jacob Roberts’ shooting rampage at a crowded mall in Oregon and ended with mass murder at a Connecticut elementary school. Why?
We check the news, perhaps on our mobile device, on our computers or on cable television, and see another mass shooting has taken place somewhere in the United States. Earlier this week it was in a community outside of Portland, Oregon, where a shooter wearing a hockey mask ran into a crowded shopping mall and opened fire. The result: three dead, including the shooter.
Then today, as we were about to post this blog, in Newtown, Connecticut, a shooter entered an elementary school and left perhaps upwards of 30 (still unconfirmed) dead. If this report proves accurate, this shooting in Connecticut would be the second deadliest school shooting in American history.
Such scenes of mass murder have been played out so many times in recent years that it has almost become mind-numbing.
We all wonder, Why?
With sketchy news reports and the complexity of human psychology, I can’t tell you all the influences and motivations of the shooters. How can we make sense of senseless violence? Sometimes all we can do is pray for the families of the victims and pray for the time when murder and violence and suffering will end. God promises that time will come (Revelation 21:4)!
But in the meantime, what can we learn and seek to change? One thing that has struck me many times when I hear about another terrible act of violence is the glorification of violence in our culture.
Glorification of violence
Consider: Two notable mass shootings this year seem to be connected to violent movies. On July 20, 2012, a gunman walked into a midnight showing of a newly released movie and opened fire on moviegoers as the film was opening. The result: 12 dead, 58 injured.
This event took place as the extremely violent new Batman movie (The Dark Knight Rises) was playing. This movie contains a number of violent scenes: An evil villain is shown breaking Batman’s back, breaking another man’s neck and holding an entire city hostage with a nuclear bomb. A number of movie reviews criticized The Dark Knight for its overly violent and dark themes.
The recent Oregon mall shooting was done by a man wearing a hockey mask that resembled that worn by Jason in the Friday the 13th movies. I can’t say with certainty that the resemblance was intentional, but consider that these movies feature a crazed and evil character who commits mass murders wearing a hockey mask.
These are just two examples of extremely violent content that Hollywood has produced in the last few decades. Then there are the violent video games that don’t just have us watching murder, but often actively engaging in murder by controlling murderous digital characters. Does this steady diet of violent entertainment contribute to the seemingly constant trend of mass shootings as well as the less reported acts of violence that occur in the United States every day?
We must realize that this glorification of violence is a serious problem.
Why change is needed
The constitutional freedom of speech prohibits American leaders from truly dealing with the problem of violent entertainment, and Hollywood will not change itself. What media conglomerates produce is driven by popularity and profits, and violence sells. So it is left to us—the people behind Life, Hope & Truth—to proclaim this bold message:
Violence and murder are sin (Exodus 20:13). Even if murder is not actually perpetrated, viewing it as entertainment or “playing” it digitally on a video game is wrong. God gave this message to ancient Israel through the prophet Ezekiel: “They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink their water with dread, so that her land may be emptied of all who are in it, because of the violence of all those who dwell in it” (Ezekiel 12:19, emphasis added throughout).
In verse 20, the warning against violence was connected to the punishment of destruction coming on the land.
We have a similar duty to warn people today that a culture of violence will result in the same consequences.
Violent entertainment has the natural consequence of causing people to be desensitized to violence and then act on it—as so many have over the last few years. Violence begets violence. But it also has the ultimate consequence of sin on a nation. Sin, according to God’s definition, is breaking the law of God (1 John 3:4). Murder and violence break God’s law (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21-22) and bring the ultimate consequence of death (Romans 6:23).
The Bible teaches that one does not have to actually act out sinful behavior to be guilty of it. Investing our time and mental energy viewing sinful, violent behavior and enjoying it (why would we watch it if we didn’t enjoy it?) can bring God’s judgment against us. Paul gave strong warning to those who, “knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). Again, sin—and approval of sin—results in death.
The death of nations
Yes, a nation can die.
The history of the world has been the story of nations rising and falling. The fall of many nations can be traced to a breakdown in moral standards. This warning specifically applies to peoples of the United States and Britain (the modern descendants of Israel). Read carefully the results of disobedience in Leviticus 26:27-32 in your own Bible.
Our nations need to repent of producing violent entertainment and turn to producing entertainment that is positive and encouraging (Philippians 4:8). But even if the producers of entertainment do not repent and change, you can.
A call to action
It is time for individuals and families to reject overly violent entertainment (whether movies, television shows or video games).
- Parents: Do not provide your children with this kind of entertainment. Do your best to keep their minds clean of violence and the natural result of desensitization to acts of evil.
- Young adults and teenagers: Recognize the destructive and negative consequences violent material can have on your mind and take a courageous moral stand against it. Our world desperately needs young adults and teenagers of integrity, courage and conviction. It takes courage to take a stand on moral principle. It takes conviction to act on that courage and to make decisions in life based on principles of integrity. Will you be the type of young person the world desperately needs?
These terrible acts of violence in the United States will continue because the Bible prophesies that societal conditions and personal character will continue to deteriorate as we spiral downward toward self-destruction (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13). It is up to us, as individuals, to reject these trends and to embrace the good news of the soon-coming return of Jesus Christ to save us from ourselves and establish the Kingdom of God.
The message of God’s Kingdom is not just a message of a world devoid of war and violence, but a world where people will not “learn war anymore” (Micah 4:3). Please take time to learn more about the coming peaceful Kingdom in the section on “The Kingdom of God: The Best News You Could Hear!”