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What Hath Aurora To Do With London? The False Promise of Human Ability

Today marked the beginning of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. After years of preparation, with a more than $14 billion budget, and guarded by more than 37,000 security personnel, more than 10,500 athletes from all over the world will be competing for medals. At more than 30 Olympic venues, an expected 11 million spectators will observe the events and marvel at the athletic abilities of the competitors. The preparations for the Games have been massive, and the execution of the event schedule and arrangements for tourists and athletes will be remarkable.

On “the other side of the pond,” also over this past week, the public debate continues after a shocking massacre in Aurora, Colorado on July 20. A lone gunman began shooting in a crowded movie theatre screening the latest Batman movie, killing twelve and injuring dozens—men, women, and even small children. Since the tragedy, as is wont to happen, various people have stepped up to the public microphone and begun prescribing their recommended ways to avoid such events in the future. The casings were barely cool on the theatre carpet when the mayor of New York City was calling for tougher gun control; in the days following, a noted actor recorded a Youtube video urging Americans to adopt tougher restrictions on weapons. On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve now seen links passed about via Twitter and Facebook to more than half a dozen articles and stories about similar attempted massacres that were stopped by folks carrying weapons of their own. Aurora, then, has become a new flashpoint in a decades-old political gunfight over gun control.

So: what hath Aurora to do with London? Besides the emotional contrast—excitement versus horror, hope versus despair—the perceptions of these two events, occurring barely a week apart, do have at least one thing in common.

The political response to Aurora on both sides of the spectrum could be boiled down to the question of what society can do to prevent mass murder. On one end of the political spectrum, the answer proposed is prohibitive legislation: take the guns away, make them harder to get, ban certain types of weapons or magazines or ammunition. The logic is that, if you remove the tools for the task of murder, murder will become less commonplace. On the other end of the spectrum, the answer advocated is permissive legislation: have “concealed carry” laws that encourage ordinary folks to quietly pack sidearms in public. The logic here is that a community that allows widespread gun ownership and carrying will present a deterrent to would-be criminals and provide a potentially decisive response to crime even before police arrive.

The relative merits of each view are not my concern today (not that I don’t have opinions on the subject, but they’re irrelevant here). Yet it seems that everyone has an answer along the lines of, “Let’s DO something!” “Let’s CHANGE something!” More regulation or less regulation? Treat the “root causes” of murder and terrorism with social activism and education, or deter violence with a clearer threat of greater violence?

Certainly the civil authorities have a biblical responsibility to deter and punish evil, and so such a debate is certainly valid. But I find it sobering that the public debate is focusing on what human action can accomplish, convinced that man can make things better.

There is the connection with the Olympics, an event that celebrates and displays raw human potential and ability. The Games’ motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” a phrase that implies humans have no limits if they push themselves hard enough. And certainly over the next couple weeks in London, there will be records set and unprecedented accomplishments will be made. The event itself, entirely apart from its athletic elements, is quite the achievement. Coordinating millions of tourists moving around a busy city while trying to maintain security, food services, transportation, and keeping a tight schedule will be an Olympic event in its own right. And traditionally, the Olympics are seen as a beacon of peace and hope that gathers the whole world together, a view even dating back to their ancient Greek origins when the Greek states called a truce from war during the Games.

It’s not surprising, then, that the Olympics are viewed, advertised, and celebrated as a triumph of the human spirit. And so it’s not surprising that a world that sees such hope and potential in the Games, that marvels at the accomplishments displayed at the Olympics, will look on a terrible problem like Aurora and be tempted to think, “Hey, we can fix that.”

The problem is, we can’t. We might be able to train an athlete to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds (perhaps less than 9?), but that’s a ridiculously simple task compared with solving the problems of the human condition. Our best efforts are imperfect, and are limited in their power in any case. Laws can’t change hearts or stop sin. It’s been tried, again and again. Prohibition didn’t stop alcoholism in the United States; anti-slavery laws haven’t stopped human trafficking; laws against murder haven’t stopped murder. Education, far from “solving the root causes of violence,” has either had no effect at all (the Aurora shooter was a neuroscience student; Osama Bin Laden was a university-educated civil engineer) or even made violence and crime more efficient (nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, economic and cyber warfare, etc).

You can’t solve a heart problem with external changes or organization. Even the divinely-inspired Law of Moses, given by God himself, didn’t prevent Israel from diving deeper and deeper into debauchery over the next 700-900 years; the divinely-designed, theocratic government and state of ancient Israel failed to stamp out crime and defeat its enemies for good. God never intended his law to provide salvation. And if a divine law cannot change the human condition, what can our feeble imitations accomplish?

The problem is not that we’re missing the right laws, or the right education, or the right organization, or that we aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough. Our problem as human beings is that we have rejected the One who gives us life and stubbornly insisted on doing things our own way. And like any disobedient subjects, we have been punished for our rebellion, cursed in our flesh and in our environment. And after thousands of years of trying, and failing, we can’t reverse the effects of that curse or the wickedness in our own hearts by our own efforts.

One day, there will be no more murders or mass shootings. That day will not be brought about by restrictions on gun ownership or by letting everyone have a gun to carry. That day will not be brought about by ingenious organization or by tens of thousands of soldiers and police or by clever educational initiatives. It will not be brought about by feeding the poor or giving medicine to the sick. Many of these things have value, but they cannot give us a better world. It will only come about when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that we are not. That day is coming, and soon.

So let us pray for those affected by the Aurora tragedy, that the light of Christ would give hope and comfort to those who have lost loved ones. Pray also that our culture would see the limits of human ability in the face of such evil, and look to the One who alone can bring an end to murder and death. Pray that this spirit of humility would also be present in London as the world gathers to celebrate human achievement, that sinners would come to know the limits of that achievement and look to the One who gives such ability and gifts in the first place. Pray particularly for those Christians, like Calvary Grace’s own Gavin Peacock, who are in London to share the Gospel to those who have gathered for the Games.