The tragic shooting at Virginia Tech has left us numb. It is difficult to understand how such a horrific event could take place with no apparent meaning behind it.
It does not appear that Seung-Hui Cho had any personal grudge against the students he killed. His act was not political terrorism or some strange religiously motivated behavior. The killings and the rampage were random–a meaningless act of senseless violence.
We will probably never know the full depths of Cho’s mental state. He has been described as deeply troubled. There are indications that he had been identified by mental health providers as someone dangerous to himself and others. We are frustrated that he was able to squeeze through the cracks of the system and find himself free to wreak havoc among fellow students.
It also appears that he fell through the cracks of gun control measures designed to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. Had the system worked, he might have been prevented from obtaining the deadly weapons that he eventually turned upon helpless young men and women. But guns are plentiful in our culture and someone determined to have one can easily find a way to get one.
The senseless brutality of the killings forces us to re-evaluate everything. We will review immigration policies, mental health systems, campus security, gun control measures, student notification, and even the way the whole matter was handled by the media.
When evil breaks out among us in such a dramatic fashion, we can’t help but ask why, what could we have done, how can we be sure this never happens again.
One issue I hope we spend some time thinking about is the role violence plays in our culture. I am not just talking about violent movies or video games, of which Cho seems to have been a consumer. In many ways media violence is but a symptom of a deeper attraction we have to violence. There exists in our collective soul a reliance on violence that comes very close to a religious commitment.
We believe in violence. We believe violence, when properly used, can eradicate evil. We look to violence to control and manage crime. In these days of global terrorism, when violence has become the preferred method of political discourse, it is difficult for us to imagine any response other than violence for dealing with the challenges that confront us.
We even employ mild forms of violence in the disciplining of children, so much so that the word discipline itself has come to mean spanking. Originally the word meant “teaching.”
This is not to say that children should not occasionally be spanked. I am merely trying to illustrate how deeply committed we are to violence as way of restraining evil.
As it turns out, Christians have access to an alternative vision. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said an eye for an eye. But I say to you, do not resist violently an evil person.”
These words suggest the possibility that a way other than violence might exist to resist and overcome the evil in our world. The fact that Jesus spoke these words to people living under the thumb of a brutal occupying army ought to give us pause.
And so we pause in silence for those who died. We pause in grief and pain. And we pray for a better way to take hold in our lives.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.