Evil – Nature or Nurture?

A mass killing in Santa Barbara revives the longstanding debate on evil. Is evil in our nature or is it developed and nurtured? Yes and yes; of course it is. 

Picture1We’ve all now heard the horrific story of the deranged young man going on a vengeful killing spree in the college community of UC Santa Barbara in California. A senseless tragedy on many fronts as multiple families are left scarred for life with grief and loss. It no doubt leaves us all deeply saddened, troubled and even shocked at the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man.

And it raises other questions often asked after events such as this: Why did it happen? Who’s to blame? Why did God allow it? How can we stop it in the future?

The core to these questions, and the answers, has to deal with the subject of evil, its existence, manifestation and solution. As part of the longstanding debate a corollary question is this:  Is evil in our human nature or is it developed, even nurtured?

The answer is yes and yes; in fact, absolutely.

Who’s to Blame?
There is sordid information becoming available about an intense and isolated young man long immersed in violent video games since childhood. His self-absorption or narcissistic personality disorder was countered by his inability to attract the women of whom he sought affection, leading to frustration and outrage culminating in the ultimate plot for revenge. Combine this with a privileged though separated family upbringing and no apparent foundation or input of faith, morality, wise counsel or mentoring.

The mix is destined for disaster. And naturally in the aftermath the pundits and media trot out the classic question of why and blame:

  • Parents? – So blame it on the poor parents who are left to pick up the pieces and whose hearts profoundly are pained over the loss and havoc their son has wreaked? Though perhaps well-intentioned they missed in providing a healthy haven, education, moral code and guidance or discipline boundaries for their ill son. (see Biblical Viewpoint posts Wise Fathering and Essentials for Sons)
  • Guns? – Some, including the parents of the victims are seeking renewed focus on gun laws and apparent easy access to weapons by those under psychiatric care. This is clearly understood given their grief and need for responsive action. But of course, this killer used knives and his car as weapons of mass destruction. New gun laws will not resolve the situation.
  • Culture? – Certainly the hedonistic, Hollywood culture of money, sex, and selfish fulfillment bears some blame for the development and grooming of such a social misfit with the means and freedom to plot and accumulate all that he possessed. It is a crass and decadent society indeed that celebrates degeneracy in all forms and then wonders what went wrong.

Clearly there’s plenty of blame to go around in the development and nurturing of an evil human spirit. But there’s another perspective which few in the public square are addressing.

Who Would Jesus Blame?
There’s a fascinating passage in the Bible’s Gospel of Luke in which Jesus himself deals with the question of evil and tragedy. In fact, he’s quite bold and controversial. Jesus is asked about a recent terrible mass killing of devote Galileans by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers. Jesus answered them:

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners that all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus?…Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

Jesus is equating the recent brutal killings of worshipping Jews with an accidental calamity in which 18 innocents died when a building tower collapsed. He sidesteps the implied question of why do bad things happen to good people, or even the common presumption that sin and calamity have a connection; that tragedy is deserved and somehow tied to guilt.

Instead Jesus shifts the focus directly to his audience and the plight of their souls. He goes right to the point of everyone’s need for repentance or else all of them too will die. It applies to us as well. How strange – yet so really Christ-like to get right to the truth and heart of things.

No, Jesus wouldn’t blame parents, guns or culture. The blame is on our inborn sin-nature from Adam’s original sin. Jesus knew and died as an atonement for a fallen world – all humanity: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

Through Adam’s human line we are all born into darkness, separated as spiritually evil when contrasted to a Holy God. That nature may be further corrupted through willful disobedience or directed toward what is good and right in this life. It’s our choice. Ultimate cleansing is done through humble surrender and identity with the sacrifice of Christ.

Have you been cleansed of your spiritual nature? 
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division….You hypocrites!…why do you not know how to interpret the present time? And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?…” – Luke 12:49-59

Categories: Devotion, Evil, Fathering, Jesus, Suffering, Theology

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