Matthew 6:13

Thoughts on Littleton

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Thoughts on Littleton

Richard Niell Donovan

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13 WEB). We don’t use that word, evil, much today.  It is not popular to talk about evil.  We prefer a medical model to a spiritual model.  We say, “They must be crazy” instead of “They must be evil.”  Sometimes terrible deeds are the result of mental illness.  That was the case with the recent Salt Lake City library murders.

But Littleton forces us to confront the reality of evil in our midst.  What we are seeing in Littleton is the pure, unvarnished face of evil.  It is the same evil that we encountered in the Oklahoma City bombing.  It is the same evil that we are encountering in Kosovo.  It is the same evil that has killed people by the millions in places like Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cambodia, the Soviet Union, Germany, and other places too numerous to list.  It is the raw, ugly evil that stems from people who are ruled by the Evil One.

We think of this kind of monstrous evil as a Third World phenomenon.  Evil takes place in places on the other side of the world—places where tyrants rule over uneducated, powerless masses—places where tribal loyalties eliminate possibilities for justice or mercy—places like Somalia or Kosovo.  Littleton reminds us that evil is not limited to poor, uneducated people.  It is a part of the First World too.

The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly (May, 1999) has an article entitled, “The Great Disruption.”  In it, the author, Francis Fukuyama, talks about the social disorder that is so common today in First World nations like the United States.  He says:

“Although William J. Bennett and other conservatives are often attacked for harping on the theme of moral decline, they are essentially correct:  the perceived breakdown of social order is not a matter of nostalgia, poor memory, or ignorance about the hypocrisies of earlier ages.  The decline is readily measurable in statistics on crime, fatherless children, broken trust, reduced opportunities for and outcomes from education, and the like.”

What he is really saying is that, in our nation, morality has declined in real, measurable ways.  While he might not word it this way, he is saying that the decline of morality has produced a corresponding increase in the evil in our midst. The author is not a soap-box preacher with an axe to grind.  He is the Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University in Virginia.

So Jesus teaches us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.” When we pray, “Deliver us from the evil one,” we mean:

• “Deliver us from becoming the victims of evil.  Save us from the monsters of the world.  Do not let them touch us or our family or our school or our church or our community.

• Do not allow terrible tragedy to strike us.  Do not allow it to strike anywhere, but especially don’t let it strike here.”

But evil does strike us.  It might not strike us in such a dramatic fashion as in Littleton, but we are all its victims.  It strikes in the form of unfair gossip, power politics on the job, an unfaithful husband or wife, and a thousand other ways.  When we pray, “Deliver us from the evil one,” we mean:

• “When evil strikes us, do not allow the evil to define our life—to determine who we are.

• Help us to rise above the evil—to overcome the evil—to leave the evil behind us—to move beyond its reach.

• Liberate us from the power of the evil so that good, not evil, might be our future reality.”

In one of the articles below, Deb Zuercher talks about her murdered brother and says, “Speaking from personal experience, forgiveness isn’t a platitude, it’s a must.  Yes, there is evil in the world, and yes it must be addressed, but if we get caught up in the hate and don’t eventually let God handle what we can’t, it will eat us alive.  We must move to action, but the kind that brings about more compassion, not more violence in actions or words.”  “Deliver us from the evil one!”

Jesus taught us to pray, “Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  When we pray, “Deliver us from the evil one,” we mean:

• Deliver me from becoming a perpetrator of evil.
• Deliver me from becoming one of the evil people.
• Keep me from doing terrible things to other people.
• Hold me closely in your bosom, Lord, so that the Evil One might not gain power over me.
• Save me from succumbing to temptation that will ruin my life and the lives of others.

Few of us are in danger of becoming deliberate murderers of school children.  It is unlikely that we will become Littleton murderers.  But we must always guard against the danger of becoming perpetrators of evil.  The most dangerous temptations seem so ordinary.

Monstrous evil has its roots in such everyday phenomena as child abuse or the breakdown of our families.  Jurors are dealing with another monstrous evil right now in Santa Ana, California.  Charles Ng has been found guilty of serial killings.  His mother is pleading with the jury not to recommend execution.  She feels guilty for failing to stop the ferocious beatings her husband inflicted on Charles when he was a child. She says, ”When my husband was hitting Charles so fierce I didn’t know what to do.  Maybe we did not know how to teach Charles properly.” (USA Today, April 22, 1999)

She is correct.  She and her husband did not know what to do.  They failed as parents.  And, failing as parents, they created the soil in which monstrous evil grew.  That does not absolve the son of responsibility for his crimes, but it acknowledges that the parents share responsibility for what happened.  The sins of parents are indeed visited upon the children.

This does not mean that, when children do bad things, parents are always responsible.  Even children of very good parents sometimes do very bad things.  It does mean, however, that our morality and our decisions influence our children.  It means that, when we pray, “Deliver us from the evil one,” we assume a responsibility for behaving in ways that help to deliver our children from evil.

Our behavior and morality are important.  We are not tempted to take up deadly weapons against children, but we are tempted to neglect our responsibilities as parents and church members and citizens to insure that children have love and supervision and religious training.  We have accepted family disintegration all too casually.  It is the small seed from which evil can grow.  And so we pray,“Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

When we pray, “Deliver us from the evil one,” we mean:

• Deliver us from a world that is soaked to saturation with violence and casual sex.
• Deliver us from a world in which people will do anything to make money.
• Deliver us from a world in which the entertainment world is ruled by the Evil One.
• Deliver us from a world in which children are exposed to hour after hour of violence and sex and profanity and vulgarity and hostility in the name of entertainment.
• Deliver us from a world of recreational violence.”

Peggy Noonan says, “Think of it this way.  Your child is an intelligent little fish.  He swims in deep water.  Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisibly through that water, like radar; they go through him again and again, from this direction and that.  The sound from the television is a wave, and the sound from the radio; the headlines on the newsstand, on the magazines, on the ad on the bus as it whizzes by—all are waves. The fish—your child—is bombarded and barely knows it.”  (“The Culture of Death,” The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 1999, page A22)

When we pray, “Deliver us from the evil one,” we assume a responsibility for monitoring the television programs and movies and video games and music that shape the lives of our children.

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal (April 22, 1999, page 22) says, “This country has spent about 30 years trying very hard to prove that no one, not even children, should be fettered by anyone else’s idea of proper behavior.  Now we have no norms.  Or at least none that we hold in common.  Are we happy yet?”

It also says, “A decade ago, satanic rock music was blamed for a rise in teen suicides. Not too long after that, TV was blamed for a spate of young fire-starters. Just two years ago, a 14-year-old boy claimed that the 1995 film inspired him to begin firing on students at a Kentucky high school. Parents of those slain students filed a $130 million lawsuit against the film makers last week.

“One Littleton witness told a national TV audience that the killers looked like Keanu Reeves’ character in a popular movie. A popular computer game also is being mentioned.

“The new ingredient: the Internet, with its rapid-fire access to an array of information — from pipe bomb how-tos to White Supremacy chat rooms.

“Could the global kindred spirit of the cyberworld make outcast teens more likely to act out their rage?”  (USA Today, April 22, 1999)

We live in a world that prizes personal freedom as the highest value:

• The old commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  The new commandment says, “Thou shalt not restrain the free flow of violence or pornography or profanity.”

• The old commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill.”  The new commandment says, “Thou shalt not restrict access to weapons.”

• The old commandment says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.”  The new commandment says, “Thou shalt not restrain the official recognition of Satanism or devil worship or cult activity, BUT thou shalt not say the name of Jesus in a public forum.”

We have sown a thirty-year experiment that was, at bottom, rebellion against established authority and values.  We have reaped Littleton.

As Christians, let us do our part to create a new world—a world in which we care as much about spiritual health as physical health—a world in which we monitor what our children take into their heads and hearts just as we monitor the food that they eat.  As a start, let us support our church.  Let us get involved in community affairs.  Let us do what we can to hold back the sludge that threatens to inundate us.

As Christians, let us work to shape a world in which the love of Christ reigns.  As a start, let us obey Jesus’ commandments to love God and our neighbor.

As Christians, let us serve as God’s partners in delivering the world from the evil one.  To start, let us ask God to drain the evil from our hearts and to replace it with love and compassion.

Copyright 1999, Richard Donovan.