“Quiet and easy-going.” That’s the way 24-year-old James Holmes described himself in his recent application for his apartment in Aurora, Colorado. A strange and eerie description, considering that he booby-trapped the apartment with bombs and incendiary devices armed to explode when the unsuspecting victim entered.
Holmes was a former medical student who had been earning his PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Colorado. He once served as a cabin counselor at a summer camp for underprivileged children. Classmates described him as “brilliant” and “friendly.” But, neither his intellect nor his benign façade could forever cap the volcanic explosion of hatred that would shape his final legacy.
Shortly after midnight on Friday, July 20, 2012, Holmes donned body armor and reentered the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, where he had propped open the exit door, and, after tossing in canisters of gas, began firing hundreds of shotgun, rifle and pistol rounds into the crowded theater. He stood mostly silent as his bullets tore through the bodies of 71 victims, killing 12. His infamous and cowardly acts have earned him mass-murder status with the likes of Seung-Hui Cho of the Virginia Tech massacre who killed 32 and wounded 17 others, and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine who killed 12 students and a teacher.
The ubiquitous question embedded deeply in the pain of the wounded, or in the hearts of parents who seek to protect their children, or in the questions of media reporters looking for a catchy headline, or in the minds of behavioral experts who need to pontificate before their TV audience…is always the same: Why? What could prompt anyone to become a mass-murderer? What could twist the heart of a 24-year-old student with seemingly good parents and a bright future to become such a monster overnight? Was it mental illness that caused the young man to snap unexpectedly? Or was it a bad drug trip that flipped him into a devilish frenzy? Was it the fault of Hollywood producers that showcase violence? Or perhaps it was the makers and distributors of the guns that Holmes used. Surely the parents must, somehow, share the blame.
As I listen to the speculation…and that’s all it is at this point…I find the politically correct world tongue-tied about any possibility that the primary motivation behind such heinous acts could actually be “evil” itself. And to suggest that someone could be inspired by a dark, maniacal spirit of the underworld would be anti-intellectual obscurantism.
For me to join the speculators would be as presumptuous as those who buy a new car financed with next month’s lottery. However, the likelihood of spiritual motivation…deviant behavior based on the sin and darkness of one’s heart should be in the forefront of our thinking. How can we be so blind as to avoid talking about evil…or the presence behind it? I’ve often thought, “Even if I didn’t believe in God, I’d still have to believe there’s a devil.” The nature, the presence, and the strategically planned work of evil against righteousness should at least bring a logical awareness of the power behind it.
We are warned in the Bible not to succumb to ignorance about the “schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 2:11). Even if every assumption were true about the mentally sick, environmentally influenced, or drug induced possibilities, evil was lurking in the heart of the one who called himself “The Joker” after killing or maiming 71 people.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter. There is evil in this world. And God has provided the only solution to evil – His own presence, power, and redemption through Jesus Christ. And there’s the rub! As soon as the name “Jesus” is mentioned, the naysayers immediately react, whether with thoughtless disdain or presumptuous rationalization. The rationale goes something like this: “There are those who call themselves ‘Christians’ who do evil things.” And they are right. This is, sadly, true. Another rationale can be summed up with the trite assumption: “The church is full of hypocrites.” Only partially true. The observation that those who identify with religion or Christianity have the capacity to deny its transforming power is a danger about which we are warned in Scripture: Those who hold to “a form of godliness, although they have denied its power”
(2 Timothy 3:5).
Christ’s solution deals with the heart first, and the behavior as a secondary result. He changes people from the inside out. Let’s not measure the reality of Christ by the behavior of men. Instead, let’s measure the grace of God by His power to change a heart. And of this fact, we can find an abundance of evidence. I have worked with former cocaine addicts who are now functioning as productive, healthy citizens, blessing both family and church with good works. I know of couples whose marriage was hopeless, who, today, are counselors, nurturing couples to wholeness; couples that were as dysfunctional as they once were. The list goes on: Former prostitutes, drug dealers, liars, haters…and, yes, formerly hypocritically religious people…all changed by the power and grace of God.
While it is not my place to put a template of responsibility over the history and environment of James Holmes, I can say, with confidence, that God has the power to transform a life from “darkness rising” to the dawn of Christ’s rising in us. “For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you” (Isaiah 60:2).