Whatever happened to sin?
Churches across Cumbria held outdoor vigils and memorial services for the victims of early June’s tragic shootings. These left 12 victims dead and 11 injured across a 25-mile radius.
Prime Minister David Cameron visited the region, trying to bring condolence to families and communities stunned by the violence, as the scale of Derrick Bird’s rampage dawned on police, press and public.
Immediately after it happened the media began to draw up a picture of the 53-year-old’s life to try to make sense of the killings. Suggested reasons included financial difficulties, a row over a family will, a feud with a fellow cab driver, watching a violent video the night before, and even a personality change after Bird was attacked two years ago. No doubt all or most of these were significant factors.
His sons, Graeme and Jamie, read out statements in their parish church describing their father as ‘the nicest man you could ever meet’, while remaining sibling Bryan said that both brothers – DerrickBird shot dead his twin brother before taking his own life – were ‘caring’ people.
The PM said it was hard to make sense of ‘senseless’ killings. He talked of a ‘switch that goes off in the head’, as if a mere mental incident could suddenly trigger a massacre.
But no media reports, including those of the church services that followed, mentioned the most significant reason of all for such a frightening display of violence – sin.
Whatever happened to ‘sin’? The word has become the great unmentionable, unless, that is, people employ it with a smirk or offensive crudeness.
But it was sin that caused the first fratricide in human history. Soon after the creation of the world Cain ‘rose up against Abel his brother and killed him’ (Genesis 4:8), having lured him, with conversation, alone into a field (according to the Samaritan Pentateuch,Septuagint,Syriac andVulgate textual versions of this Bible verse).
Cain had been warned in advance by God that sin was crouching like a wild beast ready to leap and overpower him (Genesis 4:7), but he chose to ignore the warning and indulge his wickedness instead (Galatians 5:19-21).
This sort of hideous evil is something that the New Atheism, in spite of all its talk of ‘selfish genes’, can never explain. The evolutionary process may appear to explain and allow for random chaos, but it can never explain sheer gratuitous wickedness, especially in ‘nice’ and ‘caring’ people!
But the Bible explains it all completely, and in detail. Original sin has devastated the heart (inner being) of every person born since the Fall of Adam (Romans 5:21); all, that is, except Jesus Christ.
Original sin, that is imputed to the whole human race (Romans 5:12-21), now means that each person without exception is born into this world a sinner (Romans 3). This sinfulness of nature means that the ‘imaginations and thoughts of the heart’ are capable of the most unmentionable crimes, even if conscience and other restraints keep them from bursting forth.
It is this indwelling sin, and a demonic, destructive delight in indulging it, that causes human beings to attack, mug, rape and terrorise. When it comes to universal sinnerhood and the potential for evil, not one of us can point a finger at Derrick Bird.
Our prayers and sympathy are with the bereaved and the Bird family. But if we are looking for explanations, let’s not cover up the truth, but tell it like it really is! Nothing is gained by glossing over reality.
One day, every sin that has ever been committed will be answered for, to the Judge of the whole earth – Almighty God himself (Genesis 18:25). Through the person of his Son, he will judge the living and the dead (2 Corinthians 5:10).
However, God’s gospel tells us something else, that wonderfully changes the picture. Jesus Christ, untainted by original sin, lived a sinless life and died a perfect, atoning death. On the cross, under the wrath of God, he made complete satisfaction for the sins of the world.
The efficacy of Christ’s penal substitution and vicarious suffering was attested to three days later, when God the Father raised his Son from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Those ugly crimes perpetrated amidst Cumbria’s beautiful scenery remind us once more, if we need reminding, that where ‘every prospect pleases’, still ‘only man is vile’. And we are personally responsible to bring our personal vileness to Christ in order that he might free us from the guilt and power of sin.