The Profile of a Mass Shooter

photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc
photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc

Once again, the United States has been rocked by a mass shooting in which mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, siblings, children, and grandparents have been brutally murdered. The shooting at the Washington Naval Yard was serious enough (meaning that enough people were killed) to give our nation collective pause—to take a momentary break from our daily pursuits, to express sadness for the senseless loss of life, and to express our continued sense of bewilderment over the escalating number of mass shooting events.

Guns are a factor, for sure, but as I’ve written before, the problem runs much deeper than the availability of weapons. Indeed, we have seen enough of these events to identify common themes at play in the lives of those who commit such acts of violence.

Most mass shooters have been men with identity issues (sometimes to the point of mental instability). Their struggles with insecurity may stem from broken or dysfunctional family environments, or from the systematic mistreatment by peers. Often, detectives uncover a pain-filled combination of the two factors. Immersed in a toxic environment of violent TV shows, movies, and video games that desensitize a heart to the value of human life, their emotions are like dry tinder just waiting for a spark—any spark—to ignite a wildfire.

photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc

In addition, there is another theme that is all too common in our increasingly fractured society—isolation. Don’t get me wrong—there is such a thing as good isolation, such as those times when we withdraw from the daily clamor of life to seek God and to recharge. This, however, is not that. The isolated world of a shooter is full of dark, brooding, life-stealing thoughts. In such situations, the human mind left to its own musings will come to no good conclusions.

What many of us fail to realize is that a shooting rampage is merely the culmination of an ongoing process. For every mass shooter, there are thousands, perhaps even millions of people living in their own isolated worlds, brooding over mistreatment, abandonment, betrayal, and a host of other unjust acts against their persons. Each bitter thought is an act of violence in its own right, and if allowed to run its course, some form of damage will certainly result.

This form of dangerous isolation is a type of “spiritual wilderness”—desolate territory where God appears to be absent and people uncaring. Most of us have these types of experiences to one degree or another; what marks the difference between life and death is the manner in which we process the adversity we face.

God is greater than any difficulty—even injustice—that any of us will ever face. But only those who trust Him, who learn to process their circumstances through the eye of faith, will emerge as champions over darkness and hate. No matter how bleak the horizon may appear, the eye of faith will look beyond the storm clouds to see dazzling rays of hope.

photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc
photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc

Though a wilderness experience of this sort may be nothing of our own choosing, how we process such circumstances is entirely ours. May we never forget that the sovereign Creator of the Universe is able to turn even sinful human choices toward His eternal purposes. That, after all, is one of the things that makes Him God. But what about us—will we believe?

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon and through our new SfMe Media website. This searchforme.wordpress.com site is now being phased out with this final post. All future blog entries will be posted to our new ministry website, searchforme.info. You can subscribe by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

We Are Bothered by Injustice Because God Is Bothered by Injustice

Kiev_Jew_Killings_in_Ivangorod_(1942)
Photo Public Domain via Wikapedia

Nazis were not nice people. In their quest for world domination, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party intentionally caused the deaths of well over 50 million people. We are not talking just about soldiers killing soldiers. The ultimate goal of Hitler’s “Final Solution” was to annihilate every Jew across the globe. The photo above is from the Ukraine in 1942. A woman is futilely trying to shield her child as Nazi soldiers take aim.

The severe danger of the Nazi aggression is why the U.S. government executed Herbert Hans Haupt for high treason on August 8, 1942. Although a U.S. citizen, Haupt conspired with the Nazi regime to sabotage military installations in the U.S. Had Haupt been successful as a traitor, the toll in human lives could have been significant. The United States government has always been far from perfect, but, in light of other human governments throughout the course of history, it stands a shining model. The comparison between Nazi Germany and the U.S. government at the time is almost as extreme as night and day.

What does all of this have to do with the God of the Old Testament? It is virtually impossible for us to understand God’s judgment without first grasping the nature of His rule. Every human government ever to exist was (is) colored by corruption when compared to the benevolent nature of God’s eternal kingdom. There simply has never been anything like it.

The government of God’s kingdom is defined by freedom but motivated by love. Those who wish to participate voluntarily seek the benefit of others, thereby producing a deeply rooted peace that no human effort can seem to duplicate. Since it is so profoundly good, it would only make sense for a loving God to tenaciously guard the integrity of such a government.

Some of us struggle to envision the beauty of God’s kingdom rule because our vision is corrupted by the pain, sin, and injustice of this world. Two acts of high treason, in particular, have led to a most unfavorable state.

Fall of Satan - Paradise Lost
Gustave Doré – Public Domain

In a somewhat cryptic scene from heaven, the prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12-14) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 28:11-17) paint a picture of the day when Lucifer, the greatest of all angels recruited a third of the angels (Revelation 12:3-4) in an ill-fated attempt to overthrow the King of Glory.

Having failed miserably, Lucifer—in the form of a serpent—later ensnared Adam & Eve and, consequently, the entire human race. Although once created in His image, since that fateful day in the garden of Eden we have sought to recreate God according to our own desires. Some of us may hate to admit it, but within every human heart beats a desire to subject the Creator of the Universe to plans of human design. In failing to recognize our own short-sightedness, we rail against the most magnificent government ever to exist. How do we know all of this to be true? Look what the human race did to Jesus when He walked this earth! Not only did we reject His authority; we mercilessly nailed Him to a wooden cross. In totality, our rebellion was the ultimate act of betrayal.

All of this leaves us with two terrible problems. We are each guilty of high treason–of  participating in rebellion against God’s benevolent rule. Each has, in his or her own way, contributed to the pain, suffering, and death of the human condition. A loving God—who so values all that is good—could never turn a blind eye to our rebellion. Worse still, our hearts are continually plagued with rebellious desires. Unless our human nature is somehow rewritten (so to speak), we will always be at war with the kingdom of heaven.

The reality of a loving God judging people makes little sense apart from an understanding of human rebellion. We’ll dig deeper into the story, but I find the idea of a malevolent God capriciously destroying innocent people to be thoroughly misguided.

Egyptian Solidarity Protest
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Ironically, the judgment of God as displayed throughout the Old Testament wouldn’t much concern us if it were not for the sense of justice that remains in our hearts as a result of being created in His image. If not for God’s existence, why would any of us care about justice beyond ourselves? We’d be concerned only about the survival of the fittest–not right and wrong. We are bothered by injustice because God is bothered by injustice. I’ll show in future posts that God does indeed judge people for their actions, but the foundation of our understanding must be built upon the reality that God judges out of necessity rather than desire. 

I Love the God of the Old Testament!

Judgmentalism
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I love the God of the Old Testament! Honestly, I do. I suppose that some people will imagine me to be a judgmental enforcer of rules—or perhaps a really cruel-hearted guy with violent tendencies. Those prone to stereotyping might picture me carrying a protest sign alongside the members of Westboro Baptist Church—you know, that mean-spirited group of people who hate just about anyone who differs from their narrow-minded view of religion.

If you think that any of these things are true of me because I love the God of the Old Testament, you would be wrong. One of the most disastrous misconceptions held by people today is that Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, is a cruel, violent despot and that Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is a passive and somewhat timid teddy bear. Why would we have such an inaccurate understanding of God’s nature? We generally don’t know the true character of God, nor do we understand the manner in which He interacts with the human race.

What are we to make of statements made by Jesus about His relationship with His heavenly Father (Yahweh)?

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 (NASB)

More than once, the New Testament proclaims that Jesus and Yahweh are of the very same essence (nature). The much maligned God of the Old Testament is the very same God who, because of His great love for us, sent His beloved Son to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven and our relationship with Him restored. This is the Old Testament God who is slow to anger and full of mercy (Psalm 86).

Jesus and Money Changers
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Many who proclaim only the warm and fuzzy aspects of Christ’s love fail to recognize that it was He who turned over the tables of the money changers and blasted the Pharisees for their unjust practices. Yes, we are referring to the King of kings and Lord of lords who will one day return to judge all who have walked this earth.

All too often, we fail to understand that love without justice isn’t love at all. We don’t realize that God pours out wrath, not because He wants to, but because He would be unjust not to. Would a loving God wink and look the other way when an adult male abducts, molests, and kills a little girl? We may struggle to understand why God allows such things to take place, but we can rest assured from the Scriptures that He will one day call such actions fully into account. The guilty will not go unpunished!

The cross of Jesus Christ is where God’s wrath and mercy meet. Through the cross, the vilest of sinners can be both forgiven and transformed. Through the cross, we discover a love so profound that it overloads the natural mind’s ability to comprehend. If we are to believe the writings of the New Testament—and we should—we can’t help but recognize that God the Father is every bit as loving as Jesus Christ.

All of this, of course, leaves us with one massive, nagging question: If Yahweh is so full of love and mercy, then why do we see harsh judgment throughout the Old Testament? The question is entirely reasonable and well worth further explanation, but the short answer is profoundly simple. Through the course of time, the nature of God has never changed. What has changed is the manner in which He relates to the human race.

The short answer to our question is not complicated; however, understanding the details behind that answer is somewhat more involved. In future posts, I’ll further address God’s interaction with humanity. To set the stage, however, I’d like to highlight an ancient proverb that continues to speak deep wisdom even in our day.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (NASB)

Study Bible
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Quick judgments are easy and usually wrong. Humbly searching the Scriptures, while asking God to open our eyes, is an entirely different matter. Those who are willing to search beyond the realm of natural appearances may soon find themselves encountering a heavenly Father who is very different from what our world thinks!

The Violence Cocktail – Guns Are Not the Only Ingredient

photo credit: ~Steve Z~ via photopin cc
photo credit: ~Steve Z~ via photopin cc

Once again the liberal/conservative battle lines have been drawn. Adamant about the need for gun control, many liberals seem to believe that banning all gun ownership would lead to a peaceful and happy society. On the other side of the front, a lot of conservatives give the impression that if every American packed, violence would come to a virtual standstill. Once again, as is often be the case, both sides are completely missing the heart of the matter. If heaven were a giant GPS unit, the entire Earth would hear “RECALCULATING” sounding through the skies.

So, if the violence in our culture (and in our world) isn’t really about guns, then what is it about? The answer can be found in a common word ripe with profound meaning – identity. Almost all of the conflict on earth is the result of not knowing who we are in the eyes of heaven.

I am not saying that guns are irrelevant when it comes to the problem with violence but that there are deeper things happening beneath the surface—issues that we don’t understand or prefer not to touch. We tend to focus on what we know; that which we can see and touch; the things that relieve us of any personal sense of responsibility. Guns, then, become the primary issue, but listen to any expert talking about a mass shooting and you will find that they are always identity related.

Our problem with gun violence is actually the mix of a deadly cocktail with four primary ingredients—all of which are strongly influenced by our materialistic culture.

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1. Lost identity – In a general sense, children receive care and nurture from their mothers, but find their primary source of security and identity from their relationship with their fathers. Further still, wise and loving parents will learn how to shape a child’s heart so that he or she is tender-hearted toward God and entirely secure as a beloved child of the King of the Universe. The breakdown begins, however, when a father is harsh, distant, or entirely absent, resulting in what we might call an orphan spirit in the heart of a child. Generally, a young woman with an orphan spirit will look to a romantic relationship with a man to satisfy her need for validation, while a young man will seek out ways to prove himself.

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2. A culture of violence – A young man looking to establish a sense of identity will pursue success as defined by the subculture that surrounds him. Most of the time, this means trying to prove himself on some type of masculine field of valor. When we add violent movies—and especially video games—to the mix, his heart is desensitized.

3. The loss of moral constraints – Through the influence of atheism and the erosion of traditional Judeo-Christian morals, not only is morality becoming meaningless, but so is the value of a human life.

4. The availability of guns – When we add easy access to high capacity firearms to the previous three ingredients mentioned, we cannot help but expect the types of mass shootings we saw at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook Elementary.

The solution to our violence problem has long been with us but very few recognize or appreciate its value. Two thousand years ago, ours was a world that had lost its way. Political, economic, and even religious leadership, had become entrenched with a self-absorbed elitist mentality—a mindset bearing the fruit of oppression and injustice. It was then that heaven send the most powerful “RECALCULATING” message ever known to mankind.

photo credit: lennyk410 via photopin cc
photo credit: lennyk410 via photopin cc

Jesus came not as a king but as a carpenter. Born in a stable through questionable circumstances, and to parents of lowly status, the very Son of God provided the means for every person on earth to find security as a much-loved child of God. His was—and is—the only sure and certain formula for true peace on earth. More powerful than any weapon of destruction ever envisioned by humankind, the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains the cure for all that ails us. If we truly care about the children of this world, we will seek to to rediscover the amazing power of the Gospel. What better time of the year to do this than at Christmas?

Is God Really In Control?

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Heartbreaking is probably the best word I can use to describe the aftermath of superstorm Sandy that ravaged the eastern coast of the U.S. this week. But the use of this word is by no means limited to recent events. We could also speak of what seems like a relentless assault of hurricanes, monsoons, tornados, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. that continue to extract a heavy toll of human suffering.

Heartbreaking could also refer to the pain and emotional distress that humans inflict on each other. The sex-slave trade prospers, as does that of forced labor. Even in civilized countries, the word injustice can be used with increasing frequency. And then there are the wars. O the wars! How many untold millions have suffered and died over the past 100 years? The toll of war is staggering—especially when innocent children are caught in the crossfire, or displaced into refugee camps.

I understand that the phrase “God is in Control” is comforting for some, but not for me. When I think of control, I envision God pushing the buttons and pulling the strings to make all that happens, happen. I do not believe that this is an accurate (or Biblical) way to describe the source of all that is heartbreaking. Ours is not a world in which God is in control in this sense of the word. If He is, then the Creator of our Universe would be uncaring at best, and mercilessly cruel at worst.

Psalm 24 describes God as the King of glory. As the sovereign ruler of the Universe, God reigns as the highest possible authority. No one can tell Him what to do or question His actions with any authority. Every created being is ultimately accountable to the King; and the Bible makes it quite clear that all words and actions will one day be judged.

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Sovereignty does not mean, however, that our Creator somehow incites or guides all child molesters, for example, to do their dastardly deeds. God certainly possesses the ability to influence human decisions, but He has willingly chosen to limit Himself in this area.

I am not saying that our world is completely out of control, however. Any limitations on God’s part are entirely self-imposed, and evil does have its boundaries. This is all very difficult to grasp, but our inability to thoroughly understand these things does not make them any less real. God is somehow able to take our choices and work them toward His sovereign purposes. That is what makes Him God.

God reigns as the sovereign King of glory! Every Christian can stand on the promises that He is indeed the ultimate authority, that every evil deed will be accounted for, and that God will work all that hell throws at us to our benefit. He can do that. He is God.

Others often attempt to do what God can do, but their methods are very different. There was a time long ago when Lucifer and one third of the angels staged a coup in a futile attempt to ascend to the throne of glory (Isaiah 14:12-14). Their plot was easily defeated, and having been thrown to the Earth, they then ensnared the entire human race in their quest to establish their own kingdom of supremacy. But humans and demons do not have the power and authority to reign in the same manner as God. Thus, they are compelled to resort to methods of control, manipulation, and intimidation.

This is where Christians too often fall prey to the tactics of our fallen world. In seeking what we think is right—or simply what we want—we are prone to employ the same political arm twisting tactics of the demonic kingdom. In essence, this involves a continuous quest to wrestle dominion from God, seeking to rule our world independently of our Creator. In the long run, such methods serve only to further promote the heart-wrenching suffering of the human condition.

What is the answer? The advance of the kingdom of God—that domain where the sovereign King of the Universe reigns over His willing subjects. Far from possessing the passive, apathetic mindset which embodies much of our world, those who fully participate in God’s kingdom are motivated by extreme measures of faith and love to do amazing deeds, as the advance of His kingdom always brings with it healing, wholeness, and hope.

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The line between seeking to control people (and circumstances) and facilitating the coming of God’s kingdom may at times appear to be very fine, but it is a well-defined line nonetheless, and not simply a matter of semantics.

The human condition is indeed heartbreaking, but we can take comfort in knowing that our God reigns (Revelation 19:1-6)! And if our God reigns, we can act and pray with the authority of His kingdom to make a very real difference in this broken world. Let us seek to influence the world of politics through faith and love without falling prey to its controlling methods.

Cataract Hearts in a Lawless Political Landscape

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Trafficking in persons (TIP) is an international crime that involves the acquisition of a human being through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of exploiting the individual for profit through forced labor or prostitution. A modern form of slavery, trafficking constitutes a violation of human rights in which individual victims are deprived of their humanity and basic freedom. TIP can involve either sex or labor exploitation, or both.

Human traffickers earn an estimated $32 billion annually in profits, just under the amount earned through arms and narcotics trafficking. People are enslaved in circumstances of sex and/or labor exploitation, in the majority of countries around the world, including the United States . . . according to the most recent International Labor Organization figures, the number of people enslaved in sex or labor exploitation is approximately 20.9 million.[1]

If ever there were a form of injustice that angered our Creator, this would be it. Exploiting the weak and powerless is bad enough. Doing so for financial gain is worse. Forcing them into the sex trade propels the offense through the ceiling. That we have more human slaves now than any other time in history is simply unacceptable. Thankfully, Christians on various fronts are taking up the call to combat this widespread and horribly oppressive injustice.

Recently I heard a radio interview with singer Natalie Grant as she talked about her involvement in combating TIP, the content of which compelled me to refocus my attention. Grant has done such excellent work in this area that President Obama invited her to a reception focusing on the eradication of this atrocious evil.

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What caught my attention, however, was not her discussion about President Obama’s invitation, but rather about the onslaught of criticism she received from the conservative Christian community because she met with a President whom many believe to be a contemporary expression of the anti-Christ. How far we have fallen from the heart of God that our anger toward our Commander In Chief would supersede our love for those caught in the vice of human trafficking!

Herein lies the second of the four political traps highlighted in this blog series—a hardening of the heart. Hardness of heart is an issue that receives little attention in the Christian community in spite of its huge importance. Our Lord Himself spoke of the danger of a hardened heart in the last days.

Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. Matthew 24:12-13 (HCSB)

Our political landscape is now lawless in so many ways. Whether through the avenues of talk shows, campaign speeches, or political ads, politics on every level can be characterized as vitriolic—bitterly abusive and caustic. It is to our shame that we have been sucked into the political trap of disregarding the heart of New Testament teaching in the name of Christian values. (Where are the days when Bible believing Christians obeyed the Scriptures by respecting a Head of State for his office, regardless of his character or platform? (1 Peter 2:13-17))

Our immersion in the vitriol of today’s politics reveals that we fail to grasp the extreme danger of a hardened heart.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Ephesians 4:17-18 (ESV)

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The effects of the hardening of the heart can be likened to the formation of cataracts over the lens of the eye. The process is so subtle and so deceptive that a person rarely realizes it is happening until one day the entire world is dark and blurry. In a similar vein, the gradual, layer after layer hardening of a person’s heart–for whatever reason–leads to spiritual blindness resulting in an ignorance of God’s ways. Immersed in the hostile clash of human politics, we begin to lose sight of His preeminent kingdom on the horizon. Rather than walking in love and living by faith, we become increasingly frustrated and angered by the lawless world of politics.

I do not suggest that we as Christians passively withdraw from the political arena. The right and privilege to influence the direction of our nation is not something to ignore. We must, however, be vigilant to both guard our own hearts, and to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ not to allow their love to grow cold in these last days. Contending for righteousness in the name of Christ is not sufficient—our lives must also be characterized by the ever-loving heart of Christ.

Forgiveness Is . . . Letting Go

In thinking of bitterness I would venture to guess that most people consider it an issue of being hurt or wronged. And while this is certainly true, there is an interwoven thread that so often colors the dynamics of our interpersonal relationships – CONTROL.

Almost from the very beginning of time as we know it, humans have tried to control other humans. This was never part of God’s original design.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.’” Genesis 1:26 (NET)

As the image-bearers of God we were given dominion over the created world around us, but never over each other. God’s heart in this matter can further be seen in 1 Samuel 8 as the Israelites demanded that they be given a king in order to conform to the pattern of the surrounding nations. Reluctantly He allowed them to have their own way. The line between leading and governing versus controlling may sometimes be a fine one, but there is a line nonetheless.

Through the centuries we have seen so many lives lost, so many families destroyed, so many churches devastated—all because one person (or group of people) sought to violate God’s design by controlling another.[1]

As found in the New Testament, one of the primary Greek words for forgive (aphíēmi) literally means to send off, release, let go, let be.[2]

Photo by kevinrosseel - MorgueFile

When someone hurts or wrongs us we feel as though they owe us a debt. We want to hold onto our right to be right. We expect them to pay some type of price for what they’ve done. And so we hold onto that expectation, nursing and coddling our pain. Over and over we replay the mental reruns of the wrong(s) that they have done, often adapting the scenario to vindicate and justify ourselves. At the root of it all is a desire/need for control.

When we try to control others, especially through bitterness, we forfeit the grace God would otherwise pour into our lives. The end result is that we are alienated from a place of abiding in Christ—a spiritually barren destiny for sure.

The Lord’s Prayer was designed to facilitate the government of God’s kingdom in our lives as we willingly surrender to His will. We would do well to take all of it to heart rather than to merely utilize this powerful prayer for mindless ritual.

Photo by alvimann - MorgueFile

Are you hurting as a result of someone’s neglect, cruelty, injustice or betrayal? Release the debt they owe you! Send it off! Let it go! Let it be! His healing grace will restore your heart!

“Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:9-13 (NET)


[1] I’m certainly not advocating a lawless society, but I am saying that freedom is the foundation of God’s design and that our laws should be designed to protect freedom more than to restrict (and certainly not to oppress). In this we see the genius of our founding fathers. While some were clearly not Christian, all realized the value of designing a government built upon Biblical principles.

[2] . Vol. 1: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (509). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.