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Columbine wasn’t the first. Charleston won’t be the last. It’s not a gun problem. It’s not a race problem. It’s not a healthcare problem. We have mass shootings in America because we have an imagination problem.

When tragic evil happens, we look for rational explanations that give us a sense of control through understanding. Teenagers go on a rampage in their high school because they had access to firearms. A young white man murders in a black church because he’s a racist. The perpetrators are outcasts, misfits, and castaways that fell through the cracks of a society that is largely insensitive to mental illness. Everyone misses the cues until it is too late. Unarmed witnesses watch helplessly as the murderers unload and reload and unload again.

We could outlaw firearms, but murders will continue.[1] We can criminalize bigotry, but it won’t stop people from hating. We can exonerate murderers of their guilt through psychiatric sleight of hand, but it won’t bring the dead back to life. Such approaches are like throwing aspirin at a toothache hoping to cure an abscess.

We have guns in America and we have mass shootings. But without the guns, we would still have mass murders. Access to firearms isn’t the root cause, entertainment of evil is. A person doesn’t suddenly experience a mental break in a public place and begin shooting. Acquiring a firearm takes thought. Loading the weapon requires skilled action. Arriving at the venue armed and ready speaks of planning. Shooters think it through. Before they do it, they dream it. And their dreams become the reality of so many nightmares.

James 1:13-16
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. KJV[2]

Conspicuously absent in this description of the path to death is the Devil. Don’t blame God for your sin, James says, and then he doesn’t even give us the option of turning the Tempter into our scapegoat. No, he says, each of us is tempted when our own desires tug and drag at us. If we succumb to its seduction, we become pregnant with iniquity and give birth to wicked actions. And when this wickedness is done, its progeny is death. Sin is in the heart and laws are woeful inept at handling heart issues.

Matthew 5:27-28
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Under the Law, a man could lust and convince himself of his innocence if he refrained from violating his marital vows. But Jesus exposes the heart of the matter. A luster’s faithfulness is simply a façade covering up his lack of opportunity. What a man dreams of doing, he will ultimately do given the chance. This is why instead of demanding from his disciples that they not commit adultery, Jesus instructed them not to look lustfully at a woman. It is why instead of telling them not to murder, he told them not to be angry.[3]

Isaiah 59:4, 7
4 None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.
7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.

Mass shootings are senseless, but they are not thoughtless. The shooters conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. Their wicked imaginations lead them down the road of destruction and innocent lives are wasted. America has mass shootings because her heart is sick.

Evil actions must be responded to. Good public policy requires there to be laws in place that protect the wellbeing of the general public without unduly restricting their liberty. But enforcement of those laws is primarily reactionary. Murderers are arrested after they’ve killed someone, not when they first began to boil with anger. Evil is not conquered through congressional action or police response. It is overcome through disciplined thought.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

This call to warfare must be answered by the saints and then taken to the world as the Lord commissioned.[4] If we do not renew our minds to view the world through the truth lens of Christ, how can we hope to be salt and light to the dying around us? If we are guilty of bowing down to vain imaginations, how are we to lift their eyes to Christ? How can we pray to God for peace in our land if we harbor anger and hatred in our hearts?

When wicked men like Dylann Roof act on their vain imaginations and murder innocent people, outrage and sorrow are natural reactions. But at some point as saints we have to ask ourselves, how clean is my house? The surviving victims need prayer and support. Society needs justice. The perpetrator needs salvation. But the Church of Jesus Christ in America needs self-inspection. We cannot effectively combat evil in our society if we don’t confront the evil in our own hearts.

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

[1] Though firearms certainly increase the deadly potential of a lone perpetrator, committed people with knives have created similar havoc. On March 1, 2014, a group of Chinese “terrorists” armed with knives worked their way through the Kunming Railway station killing 29 people and injuring 143 others. Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/27-dead-train-station-knife-attack-china-article-1.1707232, accessed June 22, 2015;
[2] All references are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[3] Matthew 5:21-22
[4] Matthew 28:18-20