Violence in Vegas – When false gods let us down

Stunned, saddened, sickened & silenced – that captures something of my reaction to the news of the terrifying, tragic, carnage in Las Vegas last night.

Perhaps some who read this post will have relatives caught up – brothers, sisters, friends, may you know, in abundance, the grace, peace & comfort of the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, in dark days that lie ahead.

How horrifying for survivors to watch loved ones mowed down in cold blood or expiring in their arms! How terrifying for those who, at a moment’s notice, were snatched away from earth by this barbarous act!

I’ve been reflecting a little today on how to make some sense of what frankly beggars belief: we are wise to admit, there are elements in all this that our finite minds cannot fathom – in the end we know God will overrule gratuitous violence for good; yet there are other elements here, which should give us cause to pause and help lawmakers learn lessons.

By instinct, you must know, I’m politically naturally strongly conservative. I believe in the right to self-defense, though I’ve never owned a gun (nor even fired a loaded rifle – except an air gun once or twice in childhood). Indeed, I’ve often mused about whether or not, if I lived in the States, I would go out and buy a gun. I came to the conclusion, a number of months ago, that there were merits in doing exactly that.

It is, I suggest, an entirely different scenario to be martyred for your faith, than to defend your church or family against an intruder, or loan-shark killer, or terrorist gunman. As a Christian and a pastor I believe I have a duty to preserve the life God gives. I am persuaded that it would be unjustified and cowardly not to defend others if I was called upon to do so. In other words, if I ever received a call to the States I might then require a Colt!

Yet….. when almost 60 lives have been lost, 60 family circles bereaved and over 500 divine image bearers been cast on hospital beds; and when some member of the public has perpetrated such widespread bloodshed by obtaining automatic weaponry, with what, we might assume, is relative ease (although perhaps in this instance there is some other explanation – we need to know the facts before we jump to conclusions – though that would not necessarily affect the point I’m trying to make); and when the voices of victims blood cry out from the ground, on which their mortal bodies fell, to the righteous God above…

…I wonder, just wonder, have two useful tools become false gods that have let a nation down?

I would be foolish if I did not realize some might wonder why an Irishman (who has spent only a few weeks in the States and is largely ignorant of its history and constitution) would dare to proffer comment on such a dark, tear-soaked, violent day. Yet maybe it is easier to notice some things from a distance, so I pray you, my dear brothers and sisters, on the far side of the Atlantic, will not take offense, as I gently tender these thoughts.

The two false gods I mention are the greenback and the gun.

We can worship the greenback when we make it our chief source of happiness, comfort, security and pleasure. We can worship the gun when we make it our chief confidence for protection and defense. If, however, loyalty to the greenback in the wallet of the gun lobby, clouds the discussion or controls the legislation, two useful tools, God-given for supply and safety, combine, with idolatrous force, to negate the duty to guard life.

As a river of blood trickles down the streets of Vegas this morning, perhaps this is a watershed, chastening, moment to awaken Federal Government, both in Senate and Congress, to the fact that two false gods have betrayed, and let down, U.S. citizens badly. The greenback and the gun were designed to boost comfort and protection. Now exalted to elite ‘untouchable’ status, and granted ‘diplomatic immunity’, they are no longer the road to happiness but to unbridled and heartache.  There is an urgent need to limit further blood-guilt.

Certainly it is proper, good and holy, to defend the life God gave. Yet when what was intended for good, has an unintended, transparently bad, consequence, then the gods of greenback and gun, should be demolished and torn down. These two cruel idols should be put back where they belong, by introducing stricter regulation and tighter safeguards on gun ownership.

By that, of course, I don’t mean take all guns off the streets, nor empty all hunting rifles out of your cabin gun cabinets. At risk of being simplistic, let me suggest this, among other helpful measures, as a way to honor commandment 6 and make it harder for the murderer: that automatic weapons, of the sort that do mass-damage, be restricted, with some necessary exceptions, to law-enforcement officers.

Am I so foolish to think that this will stop all bloodshed on the streets and every mass-killing attempt? Of course I am not suggesting such a step as this, or similar measures, would be a panacea for all large-scale homicidal acts! Guns are only tools, as ISIS terrorist acts demonstrate: if murderers want to maim they can use juggernauts in Nice, France, or automobiles on Westminster Bridge, London. One previous blogger is right: all evils of this category proceed from wicked, hateful, hearts.

Yet this seems to be the reason why, in Europe currently, it is harder to hire vehicles – rental clients now queue at airports, for lengthy background security checks, introduced as counter-terrorism, preventative, measures. This also explains why concrete barriers have been erected on the roadsides around the UK Houses of Parliament – so Islamist extremists cannot drive vehicles into pedestrians.

In all sinful acts there are two key things to consider: first the desire to commit evil and, second, the opportunity to do so.

When desire is present without the occasion then, in the outward act at least, sin cannot be committed. The same situation pertains when occasion would permit: if desire is absent, crime is not perpetrated. When both desire and occasion are present, then evil is at hand, and transgression is enacted. It is such a situation that the Lord’s Prayer addresses: ‘deliver us from evil, lead us not into temptation.’

Saving grace in Christ, then, is the answer to remove homicidal desire from the killer. However, also, we must note, the Lord in His good providence often restrains and checks evil of those who would otherwise perpetrate crimes. God, in His Sovereign wisdom, has appointed civil government. Rulers are His servants. Legislators have certain duties

One of their chief responsibilities is to hinder those bent on homicide by restricting the opportunity and refusing a license to kill. A way rulers may do that is to uphold the right to bear arms and the right of citizens’ self-defense – when first shots are fired then they may take a killer down before one death becomes a crowd. Another is by restricting the sale of firearms and limiting the damage discharged guns may do! If this provokes NRA anger, rulers must aim at God’s pleasure!

Do I believe that the violence in Vegas could have been prevented? Whether or not a restriction on automatic weaponry would have stopped the bloodshed, it is impossible to say with certainty. Those bent on murder will always find a weapon. If it had reduced the count of lives lost by one, it would have been right. More importantly such a ban would have erected one additional barrier in the path to bloodshed. In discouraging mass homicide lawmakers can do their duty more diligently. In this way they ‘kiss’ Christ the Lawgiver.

Once I had finished the first draft of this article on Monday, I became aware of another post on this subject written by one of my brothers – I heartily concur with his blog which among other things addresses the implications of the Gospel as concerns the salvation of the sinners: this post is an analysis from a slightly different angle – the Gospel as concerns the sanctity of life in society.

12 Comments

  1. Jeff Kessler October 5, 2017 at 8:20 am #

    – The NRA does not even make the top 50 of organizational political donors.

    – The second amendment is not primarily about self defense or hunting.

    – Trying to figure out another country’s false gods seems to be risky business, but while you are at it, perhaps over prescribing anxiety meds should be on your list.

    – from a reformed American Christian and political commentator: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/452300/liberals-national-rifle-association-gun-control

    • Andrew Kerr October 5, 2017 at 9:22 am #

      Dear Jeff

      Thanks for you comments: by way of response…

      1. I wasn’t in any way indicating that the NRA made any contribution of any sort – only that they might not be pleased by a restriction on the sale of automatic weapons: do you think that is a fair concern?

      2. In respect of the second amendment, I was aware of that. Whatever the historical reasons are, I find it hard to imagine tradition trumping the necessity of a state to safeguard the lives of its citizens – but even more importantly, of doing everything it can to prevent the shedding of one drop of blood from a creature made in the image of God. With the greatest respect, when man’s law and God’s law clash, there surely should only be one winner.

      3. Trying to find out a country’s false gods is a tricky business – I agree – the problem is (for Ireland, America or China) [and I am only speaking as a general rule, not specifically of your own great nation], that the majority in a country who might worship them, find their own false gods hard to see. Thus Babylon never realised Bel or Nebo were false gods, but the Israelite prophet Isaiah did; the same is true for Assyria, Moab, or Ammon (they even burnt their children in the arms of Molech and Milkom). In addressing these matters I tried to use as many subjunctives like ‘would, should, could, might’ to indicate a level of uncertainty. I would of thought that the Violence at Vegas requires thoughtful, conscientious lawmakers to do some further searching of heart.

      4. Thanks for the link – I will check it out & come back to you on that, God willing.

      • Jeff Kessler October 5, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

        1. You mentioned the greenback and lobbying.

        I think the NRA is fine with the restrictions on the sales of automatic weapons. Since about 1986, it has been practically impossible for an American citizen to own an automatic weapon.

      • Jeff Kessler October 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm #

        3. My comments regarding anxiety meds were not meant to be smart mouthed or random. In recent years, most mass murders in America (of the non Islamic jihad type) have been on some sort of anti anxiety medication. It has been reported in the local Vegas paper that this particular gentleman was prescribed Valium just a few months ago. There are dangerous side effects to such drugs according to experts. Thus my comment.

  2. Guest October 5, 2017 at 9:48 am #

    It is illegal for any private civilian to own any fully automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986. The ATF’s official handbook on NFA laws and regulations states it is to make new replacement parts for pre-1986 machine guns.

    http://www.dailywire.com/news/21821/heres-everything-you-need-know-about-automatic-hank-berrien

  3. Angela Wittman October 5, 2017 at 10:28 am #

    Pastor Kerr, I agree with you.

    I think it often takes fresh eyes to see a problem, and the good Lord knows Americans can be blind to their faults while pointing those of others.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Andrew Kerr October 5, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

      Angela

      It’s been interesting getting some feedback to the article, and thank you for your encouragement.

  4. Jeff Kessler October 5, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    With all due respect, I don’t want to live in a country that does “everything it can to prevent the shedding of one drop of blood from a creature made in the image of God.“

    I would much rather some having guns as a false god than setting up the state as a false god.

    • Andrew Kerr October 5, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

      I’ve had some feedback from a number of people – its been good to be informed a little better about various legal matters in the states.

      Just to clarify, what I think I had in mind, would be changing current legislation through the proper governmental channels – no doubt those more legally and constitutionally minded American brothers would understand better the correct way to express this.

      On another matter, I suppose I would see this as a kind of parallel with the desire to make sure the current ruler of North Korea or the government in Iran is prevented from obtaining or developing a nuclear arsenal – I think most in the West would agree that this is not a desirable thing, and therefore we would take the proper constitutional steps to prevent it happening: that way we can all sleep more soundly in our beds. Simultaneously, of course, I would agree that it is wise for wise rulers to have some sort of nuclear deterrent (but for a novice, I’m probably getting in too deep!)

      And just to get back to my dear brother Jeff, thank you for forbearing. I don’t think I was suggesting that no blood should ever be spilled under any circumstances: I believe in just war! I teach & uphold the death penalty for capital crimes! I believe the state, according to Romans 13, is a minster of God who is an agent of His wrath and who therefore bears a sword to punish evil. Yet I do believe Genesis also places such a high value on the image of God that the less of Cain & Lamech we have (Genesis 4) the better: Genesis 9.6 attaches the death sentence, after the flood, as a necessary way to limit violence against God’s Image, which, in fact, God takes, as an assault upon Himself. If the media have their own agenda, and if Hillary Clinton does not share these principles, it does not necessarily mean, her desire to make it harder to kill is wrong.

  5. Jeff Kessler October 5, 2017 at 11:17 am #

    Before the blood was dry, a former First Lady was blaming the NRA. We’ve been lectured to by late night TV comedians. The daughter of famous Vegas entertainer, Frank Sinatra, has tweeted the following: “The murderous members of the NRA should face a firing squad.” And on and on.

    Forgive me for being blunt, and with all due respect, but your blog post seems like piling on. By God’s grace, I think I’ve been successful at not being sinfully anger. But it’s a tough battle

  6. Timothy Bloedow October 5, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

    This is the comment I posted to the article on the FB page earlier today:

    I am preparing a message on Psalm 118. In it (v. 9), Christ – prophetically of course – says, “It is better to trust in the Lord, than to have confidence in princes.” Of course he is not saying that civil magistracy is inherently evil because that would contradict many other Scriptures. He is noting the situation where the civil magistrate replaces God as the source of refuge for a person – when the civil magistrate becomes god – idolatry. This problem / sin begins in the human heart, but is then translated into many outward actions, essentially government policies that expand the role, function and size of the civil gov’t. I believe the idolatry of the civil gov’t is THE idolatry of our age, and it may well be THE idolatry of almost every age. Mankind’s constant wrestling over the question of the one and the many almost necessitates this. As an idolatry, it can be a very significant blind spot in the thinking even of Christians raised in such a milieu.

    Hence, Christians need to be very careful to think through what are the Biblically lawful role and functions of princes / the civil magistracy. And if there would be regulations / restrictions on firearms, we must argue this, I think, based on defensible broad principle, not one-off concerns. And I think those principles need to be more direct and specific than that God approves of external measures to limit occasions to sin. He does, but not every external measure. That principle is, or can become, an end justifies the means principle, if it’s not qualified by other relevant principles around a given concern. I don’t think every aspect of life that relates to our safety and security is, by definition, to be embraced as part of the scope of the civil magistrate’s lawful sphere, so that case first has to be made for an area in which we argue for state regulation / restriction / intervention.

    And as we address that question, in America’s very “presbyterian” decentralized political structure, one also has to ask and answer the legitimate questions of which level of civil gov’t is properly responsible here? Central govt, state or local?

    There may be few evils as great as this recent mass killing in Las Vegas, but one of them would certainly be open idolatry.

    • Andrew Kerr October 5, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

      Thanks Timothy

      That gives me a helpful insight into the concerns of the godly in the US about unlawful encroachment of civil government.

      That, however, would not be the angle I am coming from here – I would (though being far from an expert on civil government) essentially argue the principled position that Rutherford did in ‘Lex Rex’ some centuries ago now. I too would be greatly concerned about the encroachment of the civil magistrate on all kinds of areas in life. European PC brigade have already interfered to much in matters like marriage and parenting to name two current issues. However, on this particular matter, where the Decalogue is at stake, in this and other ‘second table’ sins, I think the duty of the governing authorities are easier to define (though precise legislation in a matter like gun laws is much more nuanced and tricky). I don’t think that tightening such legislation would in any way further ‘idolatry of the state’ (though for some in the liberal camp no doubt they might have such pretensions in their minds). I just think it is a matter of fulfilling their God appointed role.

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