Much is being written now about James Holmes and the murders he committed in Aurora, Colorado. As a Christian and a cold-case homicide detective, there are several observations I would like to humbly offer as we think about how we, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, might respond to those who are left with many unanswered questions.
1. Acknowledge the Nature of Humanity
Many articles are now being written about the seemingly contradictory, “really smart” and “pleasant” nature of the murderer. I’ve experienced this a number of times in my own cases. We arrest someone who committed a horrific murder thirty years prior, only to find that news reporters are interviewing neighbors, family members, friends and coworkers who describe the killer as a model of loving-kindness. Like those who knew Holmes, people emerge from the life of the killer only to describe him (or her) as someone they trusted or someone who could never do such a thing.
As Christians, you and I should understand this true “enigma of man”. Designed in God’s image and capable of incredible beauty and virtue, we are also inherently fallen and in need of a Savior. The world around us is going to struggle to comprehend this contradiction as they search in vain to understand how a young man who seemed to have such great potential could do such a terrible thing. I know from experience that cold-case killers typically live many years after the murder as though they were completely uninvolved. They serve as church deacons, live as devoted fathers, and work as loving servants. The non-believing world seems ill equipped to understand how humans could be so bi-polar, but the Christian worldview recognizes our condition perfectly and describes our depravity precisely. The murders at Aurora may provide us with an opportunity to share the truth of Christianity by first sharing the truth about humanity. We are all in need of a Savior. That Savior is Jesus.
2. Answer the Questions of Skeptics
I am already receiving emails from skeptics who frequent the PleaseConvinceMe.com blog or listen to our podcast. They simply express the same types of questions all of us, as Christians, are going to get from many of our friends (believers and non-believers alike). Where was god during all of this? How can an all powerful and all loving God allow such a thing to occur? Why would a powerful and loving Creator create a world in which this was possible in the first place? The problem of evil is the most common objection I receive from skeptics who write to me and it is probably the one area I think about the most as a homicide detective.
As an investigator of murders and someone who spends time talking to people who have committed these kinds of crimes, I am struck by the power of choices. All of us make decisions every day, but few of us understand the power of our choices or the freedom we possess while making them. If there is a loving God, isn’t it reasonable that this God would want to create a world in which love is possible? Of course it is. But that kind of world is a dangerous place. Genuine love requires freedom; the freedom to choose love and kindness. But this kind of freedom is inherently dangerous because it allows for choices in the opposite direction as well. A world in which love is possible is also a world in which hate, vengeance and homicide are a reality. The murders at Aurora may provide us with an opportunity to share the truth of Christianity by first sharing the truth about freedom, love and choices. While few of us are murderers, all of us commit lesser crimes as we sometimes choose the path of imperfection. All of us are in need of a Savior. That Savior is Jesus.
3. Affirm the Love of God
During the thirty-five years I lived as an atheist, this response related to the necessity of freedom was simply insufficient. As an atheist, any act of evil that might shorten or ruin my expectation of ninety years of peaceful bliss here on planet earth was simply unacceptable. I was convinced that this mortal life was all there was. How could a loving God allow pain and suffering to interrupt and ruin my mortal experience? You can see why evil is a problem for the atheist; if life is truly this short, any infliction of pain or discomfort can be seen as an evidence of God’s “non-existence”.
But as Christians, we know better, don’t we? We are not merely temporal, mortal beings who have less than a century to experience everything we are ever going to experience. We are eternal beings, destined for eternity with God. The loving nature of God is reflected in this reality. If atheism is true, life is brutal and brief. If Christianity is true, life is eternal and our mortal experiences are even briefer! An unloving God would leave us without an eternity to hope for; without a forever to live in. This is simply not the case, and this is not what you and I believe as Christians. God’s love is evident in his design for our lives. The suffering we may experience in this life is fleeting compared to the joy and love we will experience in the next (1 Peter 1:3-9). The murders at Aurora may provide us with an opportunity to share the truth of Christianity by first sharing the truth about eternity and the love of God. Heaven is waiting for all of us if we can simply admit our need for a Savior. That Savior is Jesus.
4. Advance the Power of the Gospel
In the wake of these murders, many church leaders will offer responses and solutions. Listen carefully to what these leaders say. Bart Gingerich has rightly observed that Christendom is divided in its response between theological liberals who will advance government as the Savior, and theological conservatives who will remind us of our true Savior. When our church leaders seek to grow a government that limits access that humans have to one kind of weapon, you can be assured that those who are committed to doing evil will find a way around this safeguard. I’ve seen it over and over again. Murderers find a way; they always do.
But more importantly, when church leaders offer government as the Savior, they ignore the true problem and the Christian solution. It’s as if they don’t understand the Biblical perspective on humanity and the Gospel. There’s a simple principle at work here: whomever you trust to save you, that’s your Savior. We can put thousands of governmental restrictions in place in an effort to make this world less dangerous, we can pursue a political agenda in an effort to save ourselves, or we can turn to the cross. In the end, our mortal efforts will fail. They always do. This doesn’t mean that we stop trying to restrain evil! I am a police officer; I understand my God given role in our community. But I never forget that it is God alone who can save us from ourselves. If we, as Christians, fail to point people to the cross in times like these, who will point them? The murders at Aurora may provide us with an opportunity to share the truth of Christianity by first sharing the truth about Who and What it is that saves us. All of us are in need of a Savior. That Savior is Jesus.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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