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When Tragedy Happens

After a massacre like Virginia Tech's, how we minister makes all the difference.

The basic facts were still being sorted out on the afternoon of the Virginia Tech shootings when we received the first press release from a Christian organization with an agenda to promote.

The deaths, we were informed, were "the result of gun control." This despite the fact that Virginia is among the least restrictive states in which to acquire firearms.

The agendas and self-promoting commentaries continued to pour in. The massacre was the fault of violent video games, several activists claimed—though there was no evidence that Seung-Hui Cho had ever played Halo 2 or any of its many cousins.

Others blamed the massacre on demon possession. That's not unthinkable, but it's also completely unfalsifiable.

News organizations were also eager to assign a cause for the tragedy. Stories and op-eds multiplied, calling for greater government expenditures in mental health, tighter government restrictions on guns, and increasingly elaborate security plans for public institutions.

But pronouncements like these fall short of answering the real question and invite us to look further. If it was mental illness that caused Cho's violent episode, was it because of some childhood trauma? Or a random twist in his dna? And if the episode was due to either cause, was it predictable or preventable?

Professionals had recognized Cho's mental illness, labeled it, and referred him for treatment. A judge had made it all official. Did that do any good?

The head of Virginia Tech's campus counseling center reportedly blamed the lack of a government social safety net for the apparent inability of campus officials to stop a disturbed person from acting on his violent fantasies. The propensity of some to locate responsibility for an individual's irrational ...

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Christianity Today
When Tragedy Happens
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In the Magazine

June 2007

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