Weeping is not the same thing as crying, It takes your whole body to weep, and when it's over, you feel like you don't have any bones left to hold you up. Sarah Ockler
There are so many things to say, and so many things that have been said, about Newtown. TWW does focus on the state of the evangelical church in the world (I like writing that since we never thought this blog would go beyond a small subset in the southeast United States). My hope is to look at how the church processes mental illness in these circumstances. It will take me at least 2- 3 posts.
In the context of this discussion, the role of guns in this tragedy will come up. It is not my intent to make any sort of political statement. During my regular "after church" lunch with my usual gang yesterday, I was impressed with the different positions held by my friends. All of them had good reasons for their thoughts. So, I do not wish to get political and I hope my words will convey that.
Finally, words cannot express my grief at the loss of the lives of those dear children and their teachers. Even this morning, looking at the pictures of the two little guys who will be buried today, I started to cry. I pray that my discussion on this matter will not come across as diminishing the pain that will last a lifetime for the parents, friends and siblings of these children.
I am so grateful for a faith that offers the hope of an eternity of love to those cut down after such a short stay on this planet. As one father said "My daughter beat us to paradise." I believe that is true.
As many of you know, my daughter had a large brain tumor at the age of 3. Despite an initial poor prognosis, she survived and is beginning a new job as a nurse in a major university's surgical trauma/transplant ICU. In other words, if you wake up and she is your nurse, something bad has happened. Her pediatric neurosurgeon at Dallas Children's Hospital and I would have some interesting discussions during her checkups. I will never forget when he told me that he felt like a caveman when he operated on a small child's brain. He lamented that we have only a cursory understanding of how things work. He likened our understanding of what goes on in the brain to our understanding of the universe. We know, and see, very little.
I want to say this up front. I believe that mental illness is just that, an illness. The person who is mentally ill is no more evil than the person who has cancer. Both mental illness and cancer are a result of a fallen world. However, a caveat-is in order. Unlike cancer, some forms of mental illness can result in behaviors that can bring serious harm to others. Therein lies the rub. How do we, as a society, and a church, realistically deal with our limitations in our ability to diagnose, care for, and treat, the mentally ill while at the same time protecting our populace?
Another caveat is in order. Not all mental illness results in harm to others. There is a difference between paranoid schizophrenia and autism. Also, some people can have more than one mental illness diagnosis at the same time. We wrote a post looking at the problems of mental illness and the church called You Are a Dirty Rotten Sinner. The Schizophrenia Is All in Your Head link. It featured a remarkable article in Christianity Today written by a man who is both a committed Christian and schizophrenic.
Also, not all people who are evil are mentally ill. For example, a woman who hears voices telling her to jump off a bridge is mentally ill. Stalin carried out mass murders for political expediency.
Finally, I believe that the church has been singularly remiss in dealing with mental illness. There are some strands of so-called biblical counseling which believes that all mental illness is caused by sin. Said treatment then focuses in on the sin and ignores available treatment modalities for problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disease. I believe this naive and dangerous.
There is no question that Adam Lanza was a deeply troubled young man and had been troubled for most of his life. The extent of his illness was obviously missed by his schools, family and medical professionals. This is another problem with mental illness. Serious illness can be overlooked until it is too late.I will also deal with this in following posts.
So we are left with a conundrum. How do we as a society, and then, as a church, deal with mental illness? First, we must face our own beliefs and prejudices in this matter.
With that in mind, here are a few statements that got my wheels turning. The first is a comment on Denny Burk's post about this tragedy. I made certain phrases bold. Link
Tim Hawkins December 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm #
A thought came to my mind: for those who would donate monies to aid the victims of natural disasters, could those same make donations to church planting churches/ministries/networks to have new churches planted in that area in order to increase gospel witness for the long-term work that will need to be done in the lives of those affected by this tragedy. I suspect that the communitiy/ies (sic) affected by this will need a faithful gospel witness to be present there for a long time. If any of Dr. Burk’s readers have been considering doing church planting work, consider this area.
The second comes from Kevin DeYoung link
We believe you mean for good what a 20-year old murderer meant for evil (Gen. 50:20).
Make us winsome in our witness for Christ, especially those who will be called upon in the days ahead to give a reason for the hope that they have (1 Peter 3:15).
A Day for Hatred by Jen Wilkin was also posted at The Gospel Coalition link
On days like today I will reflect again on the ravaging effects of rebellion against God, multiplied across millennia, manifested in a freshly printed headline. The more shocking the headline, the more I must come to grips with my minimized reckoning of the severity of sin. With Nehemiah I will cry out, "I and my fathers have sinned," freshly grieved over the sins of others—yes—but freshly grieved over my own sin as well. I have not pulled a trigger, but I have harmed my share of victims. The killer lies dead, but I live on to harm again. On days like today I will renew my resolve not to participate in tearing down what God pronounced good at the dawn of human existence. I cannot stop a murderer, but by the grace of God I can stop sinning against those he has given into my care.
Then, there were the Mike Huckabee statements. I am giving two quotes. His first statement is the one for which he received enormous pushback, even from Christians. The second is his attempt to clarify. Link
Statement 1: We ask why there's violence in our school but we've systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools have become such a place of carnage? Because we've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability.
…liberals were accusing him of saying that the shooting would not have happened if the United States had prayer in schools. Arguing that he "said nothing of the sort," Huckabee explained that he was talking about a broader cultural shift in which discussions about God, faith and morality are considered only appropriated in religious institutions, not the public square.
"It's far more than just taking prayer or Bible reading out of the schools. It's that fact that people sue a city so we're not confronted with a manger scene or a Christmas carol, and lawsuits are filed to remove a cross that's a memorial to fallen soldiers. Churches and Christian-owned businesses are told to surrender their values under the edict of government orders to provide tax funded abortion pills. We carefully and intentionally stop saying things are 'sinful' and we call them 'disorders.' Sometimes we even say they are normal.
And, to get to where we have to abandon bedrock moral truths, then we are asked, well 'where was God?' And I respond that, as I see it, we've escorted Him right out of our culture and we've marched Him off the public square and then we express our surprise that a culture without Him actually reflects what it has become.
Denny Burk commenter
The first observer makes an assumption that charitable money is better spent to plant "gospel" churches to deal with this tragedy. How does this person know that there are no "gospel" churches in the area already dealing with this tragedy? I once visited a newcomers class in an Anglican church. One of the pastors discussed his plan to plant a church in a nearby town in order to "bring people to Christ." I observed that there were already a large number of evangelical churches in that small community. I queried whether it was necessary to add one more church to compete with the others. He seemed confused and said they were doing it so there would be Anglican churches in the area. Obviously, this had little to do with bringing Christ to the community. It was to bring a "brand" of the faith to the community. Is this what that person meant?
What does he mean by "gospel?" I must admit I am a bit cynical when I see this word bandied about. In some circumstances gospel equates to doing church my way. It can mean Jesus+complementarian or Jesus+Young Earth creationism.
The other concern I have is that "gospel" churches are somehow better able to intervene in this situation better than skilled mental health workers. In fact, I contend that some of today's NeoCalvinists look askance at psychiatric intervention and believe the root cause of mental illness is sin. I think that view is sinful since it ignores medical research in favor of supposed "biblical" theories.
Finally, there is a lot to be said for giving money to aid the victims of tragedies such as hurricanes. For example, in Haiti, devastated by an earthquake, there were plenty of churches preaching the Gospel. The people needed help in obtaining food, water, medicine and lodging far more than another satellite church.
Why does DeYoung assume he knows that this young man meant evil? Once again, Lanza was mentally ill. For example, perhaps Lanza believed he was preventing these children from living a tortured life as he did. Even this man's own mother did not know what was going on in his broken head. The act resulted in a terrible tragedy.But, we may never fully know what was "meant" by Lanza's actions.
I am also planning on fining any reader who uses the word "winsome." According to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary link winsome means "generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence." This is hardly the word to use to describe our demeanor during such a tragedy. We need people with the ability to express deep compassion tempered by seriousness. It is the type of empathy that weeps with those who weep not a guy with clever, pleasing answers.
When my daughter was sick, a friend from my Bible study came to see us. I was feeding my newborn son while my daughter lay next to me, with her head bandaged, face swollen and hooked up to IVs . He just stood there, and finally said "I don't know what to say except I am sorry." I almost started to cry. He wasn't winsome, just willing to help by being there.
This response puzzled me the most. We have families grieving and a community reeling from the slaughter of little children. It is hard to picture anything more terrible than tiny children being killed in such a fashion. This woman claims she has harmed her share of victims, although not in the same way. She now claims she lives to harm again.
Does she not understand how ridiculous this sounds? This is on the same narcissistic order of CJ Mahaney proclaiming himself to be the worst sinner he knows. Only Calvinistas can make a game of "I am a worse sinner than you are." Somehow, if they can "prove" they are the worst, or almost the worst, sinner then they are somehow better Christians. It is the opposite of humility and comes across as self-focused. No, this woman will never harm others anything like what happened in Newtown. Good night! Only in Calvinistaville.
In the first statement, he said that schools have become places of carnage because we have removed God from the schools. How does one remove God from anyplace? Just because teachers do not say a rote prayer, God is no longer present? I always thought that God now dwelt with His people through the Holy Spirit so isn't God present when there is even one of His people present? Also, isn't God supposed to be omnipresent?
I never got the prayer thing in schools anyway. If a non-Christian prays, does that mean God is now present, according to good Baptist theology?(Huckabee is an ordained Baptist preacher). What if it is a prayer by a Hindu? Does that mean that God is now back in the school according to Christians? I'm confused but I think Huckabee is as well.
He then says that the first statement was misunderstood. He then claims that carnage occurs because we no longer allow manger scenes on public property at Christmas and because businesses must provide abortion pill coverage. Now I am truly confused. If we allow manger scenes on public property and religious institutions do not have to provide abortion pill coverage (which will probably happen anyway), then we will prevent carnage?
Finally, is he implying that we can stop a mentally deranged individual if we say he is a sinner instead of saying that he has a disorder? I think I need some help in understanding his trajectory.
These are just a few thoughts to begin the discussion on this tragedy. I plan to look at this issue in more depth on Wednesday and Thursday. I am really interested in getting our readers' thoughts on some of these quotes.
In the meantime, TWW's prime directive is to always remember the victims. May God strengthen the families left behind.
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 4:1-5:31 Mark 12:18-37 Psalm 48:1-14 Proverbs 10:26