Like everyone else, I was horrified by the recent murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. I didn’t know Adam personally, but many of my friends did. Though separated by a few years in school, we sat in the same classes—learning from the same teachers and cheering on the same Spartan football team. My pain is not the deep and lasting pain of Adam and Alison’s families; I can only imagine the magnitude of their loss. But it is always a shock when violence strikes so close to home, delivering such an unexpected blow to the community I know and love. It is a small, tight-knit community that has already been affected by senseless violence.
The storyline has become sickeningly familiar. I remember hearing about the Virginia Tech shootings while at work back in 2007. I rushed to my desk, pulled up Facebook, and tried to check in on my many friends currently attending that school. They all survived, thank God, but were deeply impacted by the tragic events of that day. Everyone in southwest Virginia remembers 4/16/07.
Eight years later, the attention of the world has once again turned to our region. This time I have to explain to my seven-year-old, home from his third day of school, why he wasn’t allowed to go outside during recess. It breaks my heart that he will grow up in a world so full of evil. It makes me long for a return to innocence—for a world where people go about their lives simply, content to enjoy God’s many blessings without the need to dominate and destroy. But at a certain point in our childhoods, we all lose our innocence. Humanity lost its after The Fall, and only through Jesus Christ are we redeemed.
After the Charleston shooting, I wrote this, though I never published it:
There will be much talk in the coming days and weeks about racism and guns and mental health. As with most mass shootings, the American public will be more eager to know why the perpetrator did the unthinkable—what childhood trauma stunted his moral development, what rejection fueled his rage—than to understand the lives of his nine innocent victims. People will rush to blame something, anything to give their anger and pain and despair a target more deserving than the weak, cowardly man we have been seeing on TV and social media. And then the story will fade. Those of us who can go on with our lives will: waiting for the next tragedy to strike, hoping that when it does our loved ones will not be counted among the injured and the dead. The cycle is depressing in its predictability.
It is only natural to seek answers, but our first priority should always be to remember the victims and comfort their families. I hope I will be forgiven for sharing a few of my thoughts, as writing is the only way I know to deal with this tragedy at this time. I write them not in the spirit of debate, but rather in the hope of unity and healing.
Over the past two decades, our country has been rocked by a succession of shootings that go beyond the typical motives of murder. They resemble acts of terrorism, though they are usually committed by isolated individuals with no real political agenda. People have always killed each other out of greed, vengeance, and personal animosity. We see this in the very first known murder, that of Abel by Cain. But we recognize something different at play in Columbine. Virginia Tech. Newtown. Aurora. Charleston. What is the common thread?
I do not believe these crimes are primarily about guns, racism, or mental health. All three of these factors can and do play a role, but they are not the primary drivers.
My theory is not based on any expertise in sociology or psychology, just simple faith and reason. But when I look at the perpetrators of these crimes, I see losers. I see weak, pathetic men who deeply desire respect, as all men do, but do not find it—not in women or society or the economy. They often lack even a crowd of fellow misfits to validate their frustrations. They want to be known. They want to matter. But their failure and insignificance weighs on them until it is transformed into rage. They blame society and others for their problems. Instead of turning to God and finding acceptance and purpose in His love, they are consumed by evil. They lose their ability to empathize, and thus become capable of anything.
Is evil a mental illness? I suppose that depends on how you define what it means to be mentally ill. But my intuition says we are dealing with separate problems. Evil resembles mental illness in that it defies reason; it makes no sense. Evil possesses no internal logic of its own, as it is but the negation of God and Truth: a convoluted web of lies and contradictions. The only thing evil knows how to do is destroy. It has no creative power. This is why the Nazis lost. This is why we so often see the perpetrators of evil take their own lives. The lie consumes them until they are no more. But they were lost long before their bodies died, as evil demands the sacrifice of one’s God-given individuality in exchange for false promises of power. The Devil drives a hard bargain.
The person who killed Adam and Alison claimed to have been motivated in part by the Charleston shooting. But yet he glorified the killers of Columbine and Virginia Tech in his “manifesto?” What strikes me the most about this crime is not the race of the killer or victims, but how it was staged to attract maximum publicity. The killer waited to commit the murders on the air. He went through the trouble of filming himself while committing the crime and then posted the footage while evading arrest. The killer likely hoped the fame of his crime would give his life the meaning and importance he had thus far failed to achieve. Technology has made it easier to kill innocent people and then gain international notoriety, but technology alone does not explain the sickness of human cruelty.
People will talk about guns and racism and mental health, but the primary problem is that of human evil. Let’s not make this another tragedy where we rush to politicize the causes and demonize entire groups of people. Instead, let’s celebrate the memories of the two brave young people whose lives were cut tragically short. Let’s reach out to their families and come together as a community. Let’s remember that in the end our only hope is in God, our only salvation is through His Son, and our only weapon against Hate is Love.
R.I.P. Alison Parker and Adam Ward