Over the past few days, my city, Nashville, has been grieving and suffering after a terroristic murderer attacked a Christian school and slaughtered six people—including three children.
Whenever a school shooting happens in America, our country is shocked and pays attention for a time. But within a matter of weeks, most people add these events to other names on a list of horrors—Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Uvalde, and so on. But as others can attest, it’s different when such a tragedy happens in your backyard.
Some of the boys and girls fleeing for their lives were children of dear friends, and almost everyone I know is connected—closely or loosely—with the victims. We all know the church, the school, our neighbors in the Green Hills neighborhood. Things will not be the same here for a very long time.
And yet Americans—especially Christians—should ask just how much we have adjusted ourselves to this kind of horror. How numb to it all have we become?
While I was still in the haze of this awful news, a friend who is an expert in domestic terrorism texted me to warn about people calling for the release of the murderer’s reported “manifesto.” My friend pointed to research showing that publishing these sorts of documents can fuel more incidents like it—as seen by the way that past mass murderers have cited those who came before. I trust this leader that such best practices are right.
Yet I wonder about all the “manifestoes” we have seen. I’m referring not to the deranged screeds of mass murderers but to the hate and rage that have become so commonplace in our society that we barely even notice them anymore. How long can we live like this and pretend we are powerless to change it?
Regardless of our good-faith disagreements on the meaning of the Second Amendment, can we not all agree that something is seriously wrong when a person with this many “red flags” can purchase multiple weapons of that capacity without anyone noticing? And every time these atrocities happen, we reassure ourselves by noting that the person is unstable and out of touch with reality.
But can we seriously believe that such derangement is not influenced by a culture that now seems to be in a permanent state of limbic distress—a society in which hatefulness is so “normal” that the only question seems to be which group of people we should hate?
Many leaders—no matter their ideology or political or religious category—have decided that what “works” in this present moment is to convince people that we are in a constant state of emergency. And the emergency is so great that all the norms, manners, and habits that have kept a country like this together for so long are no longer operative.
After all, persuasion seems to be neither the goal nor even the motive to do something about our present state. Instead, the objective seems to be labeling one’s opponents as not just wrong, not just stupid, not even just evil—but as an existential threat to everything that “people like us” (however that’s defined) hold dear.
Many ideological leaders don’t believe in such rhetoric themselves. They’re just bringing in the crowds, counting the clicks and follows, and cashing the checks. And most regular people don’t act out of this mindset when they meet people in line at the grocery store or welcome new families into their neighborhoods—that is, when they are not disconnected from other people and submerged in an online world of rancor.
But in a culture so thoroughly characterized by this kind of hatred—and even violent imagery and symbols about the “other side”—is it so surprising that some twisted, depraved people actually believe such lies to the degree that their consciences become dulled to even the most basic compassion for other human beings?
Jesus taught that murder doesn’t begin with the act of killing; it begins in a psyche that turns toward hate, rage, and anger (Matt. 5:21–24). This kind of hatred is not “only human,” although it seems so to us in the only broken world we’ve ever known east of Eden. Rather, such hate is animalistic and demonic (John 8:44; Rev. 13:4). In other words, it is not “normal,” and we should never make it so.
Even those who don’t believe in God or accept his revelation should be able to see that Jesus was right in saying this sort of hatred and violence never leads where we think it will—to a vanquishing of all our enemies and to a victory for us, whoever “us” is. Instead, it only fuels more and more violence (Matt. 26:52).
Such hatred can consume a soul, and eventually, the wicked take advantage of every justification they can find to lash out at the innocent—whether they be Jewish synagogue members, gay nightclub attenders, evangelical Christian schoolchildren, or any others.
The baffling senselessness that we feel at a time like this—which lasts a few days for the world and years for those close to it—should not lead us into resignation and cynicism, where we shrug our shoulders in an attitude of “What can you do?”
Instead, it should bring a flash of recognition that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. What we are seeing is a mystery of iniquity so great that it should rattle us—prompting us to put aside our theatrical hatred of one another long enough to ask, “How can we stop this?”
But that will require genuine discussions on public policy, justice, and safety. It will also mean asking ourselves why so many people will forget about Nashville—and the terror faced by those children and teachers—in a matter of days, just as we’ve forgotten all the other towns and cities that have been torn apart by this kind of murder.
The time we live in is not normal, and it is not leading us anywhere we want to go. The first step to stopping these hate-driven crimes is to recognize that fact. It’s right to grieve. It’s right to be angry. It’s right to feel afraid. But it’s never right to assume this is just the way things must be.
Lord, have mercy.