I have a new post for hermeneutics today. It begins:
Like many parents across America, I spent the weekend shielding my children from news about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, even as I pored over reports that might offer some way to make sense of the horror. I saw comment after comment and post after post that tried to hone in on one aspect of this tragedy and from it craft a solution. There were the posts about increased gun control, that perhaps this mass murder can galvanize our politicians into another conversation about protecting the Second Amendment while also protecting our children from the senseless use of lethal weapons. Other writers and commenters looked to shooter Adam Lanza's psyche to offer a reason for his crimes.
In "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother," Liza Long, the mother of a child with an undiagnosed mental illness, writes about the threat her son poses to his family and his community. Her post has gone viral, with over 900 comments and 680,000 Facebook shares. She concludes: "It's time for a meaningful, nationwide conversation about mental health. That's the only way our nation can ever truly heal." In other words, mental illness is the problem, and increasing the social supports available to families will help prevent tragedies like last Friday's.
For many Christians, however, this response to shootings only bolsters a society wed to therapeutic solutions to all human woes. A typical Christian response online was not to talk about mental illness but rather about the reality of evil. From this vantage point, Adam Lanza is but one extreme example of the moral culpability we all share as sinners. As Baptist theologian Albert Mohler writes: "we cannot accept the inevitable claims that this young murderer is to be understood as merely sick . . . The sinfulness of sin is never more clearly revealed than when we look into the heart of a crime like this and see the hatred toward God that precedes the murderous hatred he poured out on his little victims."
So which one is it? A neurobiological disorder that needs therapy and medicine? Or a sin disorder that needs God's judgment and forgiveness? And why does it matter?