What’s uppermost on people’s minds today, here in Germany at least, is the violence that took place this week at a school in Winnenden, South Germany. On March 11, a boy from a rich home took a gun, went to school, and shot fifteen people, including teenagers, children, teachers, and whomever else he found. He shot them in the head. Finally the police shot and killed him.
Sixteen people died on March 11, causing great shock and dismay. The killing happened in a German high school where everything seemed perfectly fine and okay. The boy was from a home that lacked nothing. His father was a member of a gun club and practiced regularly with his weapons. Sometimes his son practiced with him, too. He could handle a gun. And then something like this!
The son hadn’t been neglected in the sense of not having anything to eat or not receiving an education. He was actually quite good in school: he was good at sports, and at other things. Everyone is asking, why did this happen?
When this kind of thing took place in America, people said: “Well, things like that only happen in America, where people love their guns.” But now that it’s happened in Germany, we can’t say that anymore.
Today we want to look at the causes of these things, as well as what solutions are in the Word of God. We simply want to see what the solution is that God’s word offers. The reason is that we will talk about it time and again with people, because it is on their minds right now. How can this happen? How can it be prevented?
Let’s briefly go to the history of massacres in Germany.
- The first big event happened in 2002, in Erfurt. Of course it had happened in America before that, but this was the first time anything like this happened in Germany. Sixteen people died then, too. Those of you who followed this on the news back then know that it caused a great outcry as well. That was the first time for Germany–a country where people don’t have guns freely at their disposal, where there are strict laws. You have to have a gun license, guns must be stored safely, and you have to register them. You can’t just buy them freely like you can in America. But still the same thing happened here!
- Then, in 2003, something happened in Coburg. No one was killed, however.
- In 2005 something happened in Roetz. That one isn’t so well-known. A student was sent out of class for bad behavior. He then went home and returned with a gun. There was a fight, a shot was fired, but no one was injured.
- In 2006 in Emsdetten, one person was killed.
- And now sixteen have been killed in Winnenden in 2009.
These cases have become more and more frequent as time goes on. The first big massacre took place in 1966, at a school in America. Then nothing happened for a while. In the 70’s a bit more went on, as well as in the 80’s and 90’s. But then, in the year 2008, there were seven massacres in America; seven cases where people came to school with guns. This year, Winnenden is the first big case. We will probably see more of them if the statistical trend continues.
The question everyone is asking is, why? Why do these things happen? How can we stop them? Because if it happens in some schools, and happens more and more often, people will start asking, where else can it happen? Am I even safe in my school anymore? Can we send our children to school at all, or do they have to be accompanied by the police? Imagine every child having a police bodyguard. We’d need a lot of policemen, wouldn’t we?
What are the solutions being discussed in the world? What are people suggesting?
First of all, they’re demanding some things from the government. What do they want from the politicians? Laws, of course. Security forces in schools. We need an armed person in school at all times. There are so many unemployed people, so let’s hire one of them to do it. But I think it’s obvious that you can’t prevent a massacre by that means.
Right now what’s especially being demanded are tighter gun control laws. The laws must be stricter!
A further demand is to prohibit video games. It’s a well-known fact that video games are, in part, very violent. They involve blowing away as many people as possible, and sometimes there’s a lot of blood. The players’ imaginations are so excited that they no longer know whether it’s a game or reality. Most people would still insist, “I’m still quite capable of distinguishing.” But this excited imagination leads people to be more and more willing to use violence. Therefore, video games have to be prohibited.
Furthermore, the internet has to be better controlled. Look at all the ways violence is glorified on the internet! We have to monitor it. They do that already in China. But the people aren’t very happy about that, either.
All of these points will not lead to fewer massacres in the future. That’s why there are other people now who say that there’s no point in making laws; the parents have to act.
What are the parents supposed to do? They have to supervise their children better. What are your children doing right now? What are they up to? Are they playing a violent game? Are they communicating with someone who has violent fantasies? What are they doing? These are the questions the parents are supposed to ask.
First, they need to supervise their children, and second they need to restrict them. No more video games at night! Don’t argue with them about it; just pull the plug. Simple.
These are the suggestions being made. What you will probably see is that all of them are suggestions that approach the issue from the outside. We have to make laws from the outside; we have to tighten up. And in the end we’ll only be safe when all of us are sitting in prison and everyone has their own guard.
What are the causes? Where are they found? The question we have to ask here is, who is capable of doing something like that? Is it only certain types of people? Unemployed people, for example? Certainly not. How about people who are frustrated, who can’t deal with life anymore? The boy in Winnenden was from a rich home. A lot of possibilities were open to him. How could you call him frustrated? You can’t.
They determined that people who go to war and shoot at other people or hold them captive can become very cruel. We know some stories from Vietnam, where people were treated very brutally by American soldiers. More recently, we know of the abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where people even took pleasure in mistreating prisoners. They even took pictures of it, which is why the whole thing became public. They bragged about everything they did.
How can people become like this? Psychologists did experiments and determined that basically everyone can become like this. That is scary news. Every person can turn violent! Where are we secure? Where can we find safety?
But let us ask, where does the whole thing begin in the person? Jesus gives a very clear answer. Let’s open Matthew chapters 5 through 7, where He holds the Sermon on the Mount. He talks about killing.
21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.”
22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire.
What is Jesus talking about here? Is He talking about malicious gossip? If I say to someone, “You fool!” do you think I’ll be prosecuted for it? Definitely not. How about if I say, “You good-for-nothing?” How often do you hear “You good-for-nothing!” today? Is this seen as a misdemeanor? Not at all. And nonetheless, Jesus equates it with killing.
23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.
24 First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
Who has ever hated another person? What would Jesus say about that? He would say that it is transgression of the law, “You shall not kill.” It begins in the heart; it begins inside a person. And every person who abandons himself to hatred desires violence. Hatred is connected with violence; you cannot separate the two. Anyone who has hatred in his heart takes the first step towards the deed. That is what psychologists have found out; every person has in him or herself the potential to do something like that.
We really want to ask, what is the cause? The cause begins with this hatred. It can begin with me being angry at someone else and disliking the person. Now who of us can say that he’s never disliked someone or wished injury upon an enemy? But all of that is a first step towards killing your brother.
This is a truth that Jesus clearly expresses. The massacre begins in the thoughts. These thoughts are sometimes expressed on the internet or in conversation. When these things are expressed, they are now taken much more seriously than they used to be. You used to be able to say a lot.
Music glorifies violence, for example, and no one used to worry about that at all. “Yeah, sure. It’s all in fun,” they would say. But when it leads to such an action, and when you look at where it all began, then you see that maybe it’s not all in fun after all. People start to think: “Maybe we ought to be more careful; maybe we ought to pay more attention to what’s in our teenagers’ heads, and in the heads of the people who make and listen to that kind of music and love it.”
The law cannot capture the thoughts; it cannot judge them. This is why politicians are powerless here. They cannot prevent it. We must say this very clearly.
The next question is, what can parents do? Even parents are powerless as long as they only take measures from the outside, as long as they only pull the plug and forbid. In the end, they cannot control everything.
The real problem is often not addressed, and that is that the family life is ruined. The family life is ruined because the marriage is ruined. These two things are connected.
Children come from families, not from any other form of life. Jesus addresses this very clearly in the next verses:
27 You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.”
28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Where does adultery start? In the heart. How often adultery is committed today! It’s even being legalized. It is even made into a profession. People who lead others into adultery are pursuing a recognized profession. Is it any wonder that marriages are being destroyed, and the next thing that happens is that families no longer function? Jesus makes it very clear:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
30 Furthermore it has been said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”
31 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
Then He says basically the same thing about swearing, and continues with revenge. Here, again, the thought of hatred and massacres comes up:
38 You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
43 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
If we look at Jesus’ words, then the following question poses itself: Can the law even be kept? An external law can certainly be kept; at least people think so, which is why laws are made. For instance, “You shall not kill.” A killing spree is illegal. What took place in Abu Ghraib is also illegal. What took place in Vietnam is illegal. Those are all illegal things. That law can be kept—at least people think it can.
But if it starts in the thoughts, can the law be kept? Here we find a philosophy in the world clearly telling us that no one can keep the law.
When I was a child, a friend of mine told me I could lie if I crossed my fingers behind my back. Then I could say the opposite of the truth. I thought, “That cannot be.” Even as a child, this idea seemed funny to me.
Can we lie? In society it’s acceptable. It’s called a white lie, and a white lie is allowed, unless you’re under oath. Does God allow it, too? Can the law be kept? People today would say no if they looked at Christ’s words. I would like to read you a story about this. It is the story of Job:
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
7 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”
8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”
9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”
The argument was about Job. The question was, does Job keep God’s law? Is he a man who really keeps the law? And God said, “Look! Here is someone who keeps the law.” But Satan replied, “Hah! He’s not doing it for nothing…”
10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.
11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!
Of course God wouldn’t take all those things away from him. Rather,
12 The Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Then Job lost one thing after another. Job didn’t know what it was all about. But in all of this, he did not sin. He merely said,
21 The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Then the sons of God came together a second time, and God was able to present Job and say, “Here, have you seen?”
1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord.
2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”
3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.
What God really said here is, “I allowed you to hurt him. But still he holds fast. There is none like him on the earth. Look, here is someone who is keeping My law. This is evidence of the fact that it can be kept.” So Satan answered the Lord and said,
4 Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.
5 But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!
How often do we hear, “Why did this have to happen to me, of all people? Why me? It always hits me.”
“But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” Most people cannot bear it when their lives are on the line.
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
8 And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
The story goes on, and at one point Job says,
15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
That was the attitude of Job, who did not break the law in any way.
We could continue and look at other stories. One example, of course, is Jesus, who also kept the law. But the question is, how?
Satan is man’s destroyer, but he blames it on God. He tells us,
“You cannot even keep the law, and to top it all off, God will punish you for the fact that you aren’t keeping it.”
That’s what he said in the Garden of Eden. When Adam sinned, Satan came to him and said, “Look, God will punish you. God knows that if you eat of the tree, you’ll ascend to a higher level. God doesn’t want that. He wants to keep you small. He knows full well that this law is not good for you, and when you transgress it, you’ll feel the punishment from Him.”
But that is not God’s character. First of all, God doesn’t punish. Secondly, He hasn’t given any law that isn’t for our best good, and which we are able to keep.
Imagine that God would punish us for things we cannot accomplish. Imagine me demanding of you, “Go across America on foot—in three days. And if you don’t do it, I’ll punish you.” That would really be something, wouldn’t it? You’d get the punishment for sure. But that is not God. That is not His character. Everything He requires of us, He gives us the power to do.
But the question, of course, is how? I would like to read a text from Romans with you. There are many verses we could read about this, but let’s turn to Romans 3. Here, Paul clearly describes how it is not possible to be changed by outward measures; that is to say, by a law.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The problem is that people think more laws will prevent these things from happening in the future. That is not the case.
Paul also describes this in Romans 7, where he says,
15 For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.
But the solution to this problem is given in Romans 8:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
God does not give us an external law in order to change us; He gives us an internal law. He changes our heart:
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
And in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel, God says,
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.
27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
Then we will find no thought of hatred. Then we will find people we are sure will not commit a massacre. But only the Spirit of God can accomplish this for every person.
The solution consists of God changing the heart, so that the causes of these things are removed.
Now one question remains. Why are there more and more of these things? Why are they on the rise? Before 1966, there were as good as none of these cases at all. Now there are more and more of them. What is the cause of this lawless violence?
We have to look for it in the fact that today, the eternal validity of God’s law is being brought into question. This is especially taught in the churches. It is simply being put into question. If the Bible says, “You shall not commit adultery,” then they say, “Well, that was back then.” If the Bible says, “You shall not lie,” then they say, “A white lie doesn’t count.” “You shall not kill” – “Well, that only applies to illegal killing.” And the list goes on. If we declare these things, which God has given in His law, to be not lasting or invalid, then we open a door to the sin that we see in our society right now.
Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the law will be annulled under His ministration.
17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Can you say that the law of God is eternally valid any more clearly than that? And still religious teachers dare to say that the law doesn’t apply anymore today!
If the law doesn’t apply, then what does? What’s valid at all anymore? That is the problem with our legal system. What can you go by? Of course what’s valid is determined by consensus. If adultery is socially acceptable, then it isn’t looked upon as an offense anymore. If things that are seen as offenses today become the social norm, they won’t be seen as offenses anymore. Thus the whole thing goes on and on. We’re swimming in an ocean of uncertainties, a deficiency of norms. This is because the eternal validity of God’s law has been brought into question. We don’t even know the full extent of it yet.
What goes hand in hand with the law’s eternal validity is the fact that the law only has power when it is written in the heart, not when it only exists as an outward letter. The eternal validity of the law and the law written in the heart belong together. As Paul says, “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” (Romans 8:4). Now the law is fulfilled, once it is written in the heart.
The problem is that in place of the validity of the law, legal measures are taken. Laws and more laws are made for this, and that, and the other thing. They cannot replace God’s eternal law. Impossible! And instead of God’s law being written in the heart, lawlessness rules. Our society fluctuates between legal measures and lawlessness. We have no real norms anymore; we don’t know whether lying is really wrong or not. We need precise laws to determine that, and even then we transgress them at some point or find a loophole. Then the laws have to be made even more precise. So there are more and more legal measures.
If the law is not written in the heart, all the legal measures in the world will not stop it from being transgressed. That’s like trying to fix a broken dam with feathers. It won’t work. Once it has burst open, you need to take other measures to fix it.
The real problem is two things—disregard for the eternal validity of God’s law, and ignorance of how His law is to become written in the heart. This is God’s answer and the solution; the eternal validity of His law, and His law written in the heart. I wish with all my heart that we will live this out to such an extent, and that our lives will become so selfless and full of love for others, that it will become apparent that this is the answer to the increasing lawlessness and violence in our society.