Like many of you, I watched in horror on Monday as news of the Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park rolled in. The tragedy is immense: seven beautiful image-bearers slain, thirty-nine hospitalized, and, in a story that gripped all our hearts, a two-year old toddler orphaned of both his parents. So much evil is hard to wrap our minds around. It’s heart wrenching and grievous. I’m reminded of those poignant lines penned by Robert Burns, “Man’s inhumanity to man, makes countless thousands mourn.”
Predictably, the politicians on both sides rushed to get their talking points in. The Left blamed the system and the guns. The Right blamed the shooter, whose name I choose not to mention. But both sides of the political debate miss the full picture of where evil comes from. The Bible gives us a much more holistic accounting of where evil like this arises from.
Theologians have historically classified the sources of evil with the triad: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.
“The World” refers to the culture of a society whose values and structures are at odds with the ways of God (1 John 2:15-17). Fallen people build fallen cultures, societies, and institutions. Those worldly cultures both promote and permit various kinds of sin and evil to run amuck. Followers of Jesus have long been admonished to be careful how we allow the culture of the world to shape us, because it’s all too easy to just go with the flow. It’s not hard to see that mass shootings and dehumanizing violence have become a tragic part of our God-rejecting society. This worldly culture of death is destroying us.
“The Flesh” refers to the inherent sinful desires that lie deep within us (Romans 7:15-24). We are rebels by nature and by choice. Sin dwells deep in our being. We are bent and broken and prone to evil. We choose sin and we enact evil. It comes from within us, and we are responsible for the choices we make. Weapons serve as amplifiers of the evil that lies in human hearts. A human being pulls the trigger, but the devastation of that evil is directly related to how much firepower is within that human’s grasp. An evil-hearted commoner can do damage, but an evil-hearted king can do immeasurable damage.
“The Devil” refers to the supernatural evil forces intent on destroying all that God holds dear (Ephesians 6:12). Satan and his minions intend to “kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10) and strike at the heart of God by going after His children. They take hostages and employ terrorist tactics against His image-bearers. The mass killing, dehumanizing violence, and global terrorism we see is surface-level evidence of a diabolical spiritual war. The serpent is at work. There’s far more evil than meets the eye.
The Bible gives us a thick and robust understanding of the complexities of evil. Evil doesn’t arise from a single source. Evil is always a confluence of three interconnected and reinforcing realities: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Evil, it turns out, is all around us in society, residing deep within our being, and is diabolically pursuing us at every turn. Our cable news pundits and politicians will always tend toward reductionistic and simplistic solutions because they have reductionistic and simplistic diagnosis of the problem. Evil isn’t just limited to individual choices. Nor is evil limited to systems and weapons. Evil like this arises from societal factors, individual choices, and supernatural aggression. We are right to consider social changes to restrain these acts of evil. We are right to hold the individual accountable for his actions with swift justice. But we must not forget the spiritual dimension of these diabolical moments: we are under spiritual attack. The serpent’s fang marks are all over us. We need Jesus, plain and simple. We need His mercy. We need His intervention. We need His kingly reign. So, we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” And even so, “come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
For even in this valley of the shadow of death, we are loved, more than we know.