The massacre of small school children last week in Newtown, Connecticut has sadly reminded me of other spectacular outbreaks of sin that our local community and nation has witnessed over the years. As a pastor I have tried to help the people I serve to think biblically about such events and to find the comfort and encouragement that comes from the gospel of a crucified, risen Savior. This week I will repost three of those articles here in hopes that they might be useful as we reflect on this most recent display of depravity.
The following article appeared in issue 25 of the Founders Journal under the title of “Lords of Chaos: Where do they Come From? Reflections on Sin and Evil.”
April 30th, 1996 at 11:00 PM, a thirty-two year old Ft. Myers, Florida High School band director was murdered with a shotgun blast to his head when he opened his front door to one of his students. After he was dead, the murderer shot him again, intentionally desecrating his body. Even those who have been greatly desensitized to brutality by the regular news media reports of man’s inhumanity found this crime particularly heinous.
Over the next week community-wide grief turned to horror and unbelief as police investigators began to unravel the most sinister and incredible scheme that Southwest Florida has ever witnessed. They discovered that this teacher had been murdered by a gang of high school students who call themselves the “Lords of Chaos.” This gang was responsible for a recent string of crimes that included arson, burglary & armed robbery. They called their eighteen year old leader, “God.” Furthermore, when they were arrested they were in the process of preparing for a trip to Disney World where they intended to carry out elaborate plans to steal life-sized costumes of cartoon characters. Once dressed in these costumes, they planned to walk about the park randomly shooting black people with silencer-equipped handguns.
The ensuing analyses of these tragic revelations have collectively provided an interesting study in contemporary perspectives on sin and evil. One obvious observation is the contemporary ignorance of the relationship between these two realities. Yet, as the Bible teaches and experience confirms, sin and evil are so inextricably bound together that you cannot begin to make sense of the latter without a serious understanding of the latter.
Through the influences of both theological and secular humanism the modern American mind long ago jettisoned any belief in human depravity. Thus, as Rabbi Kushner has widely taught, when bad things happen it is “good people” who must grapple with the question of “why?”
His views simply reflect contemporary thinking, which, when it comes to the issue of evil inevitably begins with the presupposition that man is basically good. After all, look at the many beneficial things the human race has accomplished. We are constantly reminded of the vast advances being made in science, technology, medicine, and education. Surely the examples that can be cited from these and other fields of human endeavor reflect a nature that is, at least, pretty good.
This assumption renders one ill-prepared to deal with the reality of moral evil in the world. Explanations must be sought from places other than the human heart. So the blame is usually placed on some kind of social deprivation. The arguments which are offered from this wrong-headed perspective are hardly tenable, much less convincing.
Lack of education is frequently suggested as the rationale behind the basically evil actions of basically good people. It is incredible that this argument has so many adherents given the fact that today more people have received more formal education than at any time in our nation’s history. Should we not expect to see less crime today than ever before if this theory is accurate? In addition, does not Ted Kaczynski, the Harvard educated , Berkeley experienced “Unabomber” illustrate the lunacy of such a notion?
Poverty is another common answer put forth to explain why good people do bad things. If only poverty could be wiped out, then the crime and evil which blight impoverished areas would also disappear. If this theory were true then the era of the Great Depression should have seen the highest crime rates in American history, which, of course, was not the case. Financial privilege cannot eradicate evil. Erik and Lyle Menendez, who brutally murdered their millionaire parents in Beverly Hills, put the lie to that silly idea.
It is simply impossible to make sense of the reality of moral evil in the world apart from the Bible’s teaching on sin. This is not to suggest that all of our questions are answered in what the Bible says. Some things God has chosen not to reveal (Deut. 29:29), such as why He allows evil to exist in the first place. But that which the Bible does teach makes perfect sense of the world. It fits the facts.
So then, what exactly does the Scripture say? How can it help us gain a proper perspective on something as insidious as the Lords of Chaos?
Scripture begins with the reality of man’s falleness. What happened in the garden of Eden was a genuine tragedy. Sin wreaked havoc on man’s previously righteous and innocent nature. That one act of disobedience plunged the whole human race into a state of moral and spiritual depravity. As the Second London Baptist Confession puts it, all people are now “wholly defiled, in all the faculties, and parts, of soul, and body.” The Bible is clear–sin has turned every member of the human race into a rebel against the Creator.
Even in the days of Noah “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The Prophet Jeremiah confirms this judgment: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
The Apostle Paul draws on Old Testament teaching to make the same point about the whole human race in startlingly graphic terms:“There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit;” “The poison of asps is under their lips;” “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
Obviously, Paul had not read, I’m OK, You’re OK. Neither had he imbibed the theological humanism which has so deeply infiltrated contemporary Christian thinking. This Pelagian malady has found a haven within our own Southern Baptist ranks. Those who doubt it need only consider some of the bitter reactions of so-called moderates to the recent public affirmation of human depravity by Dr. Mark Coppenger, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In a Virginia Baptist evangelism conference, President Coppenger decried the modern notion that men are basically good in nature. Rather, he declared, they are “bad” (which he went on to explain in terms of sin and rebellion). A Baptist state paper editor accused him of employing “the language of hate” while a Texas pastor charged him with having the attitude of the Pharisees. If nothing else, such protests illustrate clearly that human depravity extends to the mind.
Moderate complaints notwithstanding, the Bible teaches that, because of sin, men are naturally opposed to God and God’s law. Lawlessness, then, is the standard conduct of this fallen world.
When this native lawlessness breaks out in a particularly heinous expression of vileness and brutality, it cannot be written off as some odd quirk of nature. It cannot be explained away by pointing to some external force. The source of the problem lies much deeper than that. Once due consideration has been given to the various influences on human behavior, this central truth stubbornly remains–simply stated in Scripture and amply illustrated in human history: the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. And the problem of the human heart is that it has been ravaged by sin. And the only answer to sin is Jesus Christ.
Thank God that the Lords of Chaos stand out because they are exceptions and not the norm. But do not be deceived about why this is so. It is not because of poverty, lack of education or any other social ill. Their actions are the consistent outworking of sin–rebellion against God.
Why, then, is not everyone a Lord of Chaos, or a Jeffrey Dahmer, or a Ted Bundy or an Adolph Hitler? Because God, in His sovereign mercy, usually restrains most of His rebellious image bearers from going that far in expressing their sin. Like a rider who “gives the horse his head,” God does on some occasions loosen the reins with which He holds back the degenerative pull of human depravity (Rom. 1:18-32). The consequences are always disastrous. That’s the nature of human sin.
Viewed in this light–the light of Scripture–it is amazing that there are not more Lords of Chaos menacing society and that this world is not a field of blood. The seeds which blossomed into brutal violence and murder in them are planted in every human heart. What makes you or me different from them? The mercy and grace of God. Nothing more.
Granted, this is a hard truth to swallow. But it is the truth. It is much more psychologically satisfying to explain away the notoriously wicked among us in terms which are far removed from our own circumstances. If we can distance ourselves from them and convince ourselves that “they” really are not in any way like “us,” then we can sleep easier at night. It is the sleep, however, of the drunkard, who so dulls his senses that he falls into a stupor. The truth, ultimately, cannot be denied. The very same sin nature which moves some to commit the most atrocious of crimes resides within every man, woman and child.
It is a shattering realization.
During WW II Adolf Eichmann was Hitler’s top angel of death. From 1939-1945 he was in charge of exterminating Jews in Germany. Over six million Jewish people were murdered under his efficient administration. After the war he escaped to South America, where he lived until he was found and arrested by the Israeli secret police in 1960. Eichmann was extradited to Israel where he was put on trial for the atrocious crimes he committed against the Jews.
One of the survivors the Holocaust was Yehiel Dinur. He was called on to testify against Eichmann at the trial. When Dinur confronted Eichmann in the Israeli courtroom, he began to shout and sob uncontrollably, finally collapsing to the floor. Everyone assumed that his reaction was caused by the memory of the horrible atrocities of the death camps in Nazi Germany. However, in a later interview Dinur explained that that was not the reason at all. Rather, he said, when he saw Eichmann he expected to see him as the personification of evil itself, some kind of moral monster. But, as he gazed into Echmann’s eyes, he realized for the first time that sin and evil are the natural human condition. Dinur said, “I saw that I am capable to do this…exactly like he.”
Eichmann was not a madman. Dahmer and Bundy were not sociological mutations. The Lords of Chaos are not monsters.
How are we to think of them? As enslaved sinners. And the same sinful nature which erupted so heinously in their lives is possessed by every child of Adam at birth. To see this and to believe it is to be brought to your knees just like Yehiel Dinur.
Against this black velvet backdrop the grace of God in Jesus Christ shines as a brilliant diamond radiating hope to our utterly depraved world. Through His life, death and resurrection, He has conquered sin and all the powers of evil. By the work of His Spirit, He changes human hearts and makes men new. As Lord of lords He overcomes chaos and will soon appear to eradicate evil forever.
Therefore, in the face of moral evil, in the midst of human suffering and sorrow, with faith let us look up and lift up our heads, because our redemption draws near.