Many things could be said concerning this horrible tragedy. We could talk about the eeriness of the incident occurring in the middle of a movie that pits obvious pure good vs. obvious pure evil. We could talk about the effects of violence in movies, television, and video games. We could talk about how this scene could have played out differently in the midst of different gun laws. Thoughts and emotions in times like these go in every direction: from sadness to anger to a realization of how fragile we are and how such a world we live in is capable of such evil.
We think about the facts of what happened, specifically in regards to the person of James Holmes. He dyed his hair to resemble the Joker. He wore protective gear that made him look like the real-life villain that was being dramatized on the silver screen. He looked at the faces of hundreds of people who had no intent to harm him and tried to take as many of their lives as he could. He took a dose of vicodin to calm his nerves prior to the attack. His apartment had been rigged to detonate explosives to any who would enter, intending to take even more lives. His neighbors say that techno music with sounds like gunshots in the music played on loop that night of the attack. All signs point to him being as the media portrays him: someone who was not a normal person, someone who was mentally deranged, and even someone who psychologists categorize as a “Lone Wolf Killer,” that is to say, among a completely different species! Surely, he is not one of us, or at least no one like me. I, as a normal functioning decent human being would never in my wildest imagination remotely consider willingly killing someone, let alone a dozen someones. Why would anyone have such intent to kill people who were completely innocent and in no way deserving to die, especially at such a young age?
Strange and horrific as the events and details are, James grew up with us. He was one of us. He went to our high school. He played on our soccer team. He is reported as having been a loner, to be sure, but I certainly regard myself as a loner from time to time when I wish to just do my own thing for a night. He never caused conflict and certainly never showed signs of violence. He went to our college. He got our coveted Bachelors degree, our Masters degree, and was on his way to the pinnacle of human achievement: the PhD. Surely this murderer had gotten some things right. Right? He probably has let an elderly lady go in front of him in line at Wal-Mart. He probably kissed his mother and told her how much he loved her. He probably meant a great deal and has had a positive influence in the lives of at least some people. Yeah, he had this one little mess-up this one night where he may have let his emotions get the best of him, but we all mess up from time to time and we surely all do things we regret. Surely God will let this man into heaven, who really does have enough good inside of him. You just have to look hard enough.
Okay, okay. Quit yelling at your screen. He was a cold blooded murderer. I get that.
But wait—So am I. So are you. So are all of us.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. – Matthew 5:22Have you ever had someone cut in front of you in traffic and you give them a nice little hand signal or say any number of four letter words? Think of a time when someone sinned against you. What was your kneejerk reaction? Think of another time where someone sinned against you, but instead you let your anger grow over multiple days. Then finally one day you see the person again and you really let them hear it. They sinned against you so terribly, after all. They deserved it. Then, you look back at that time later on and think to yourself, “Man, that was just not me in my right mind and something that I should not have done. I shouldn’t have said those things I did. That doesn’t make me any better of a person to tell them off like that.”
In a time where our anger boils over “evil” people like the Joker, people like Bane, Republicans like Mitt Romney, Democrats like Barack Obama, murderers like James Holmes. Let us remember who it is that actually killed those “innocent” people in the theatre.
You did. I did.
Let us remember who it is that actually killed the only innocent human that has ever lived in this world and who is the only person whose thoughts, words, and actions truly didn't merit death.
You did. I did.
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. – Acts 2:23By our sins, by our murder we commit with our mouths and heart on a daily basis, we put Jesus on the cross. By every sin we commit, there is Jesus dangling on the cross, taking every little shot we give him. Jesus, however, didn’t just take the shots of the Romans who nailed him to the tree, he took the shots of the murder of my neighbors when I lashed out against them. He took the shots of the murder of your neighbors when you lashed out against them too. He took every one of James’ murders in the theatre that night on to Himself, as if Jesus Himself were jumping in front of every bullet.
And what did Jesus do after taking all of those shots? He died. He died the painful, horrific, gory death of every single person in this world who has ever died, including especially the deaths of those in the theatre. But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus, having taken our murders with him on the cross, rose again from the dead into new life, completely removing all the sins of the world. All of those gunshots? Gone. All of those times we murdered our neighbor by insulting him? Gone.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:37-38Baptism? What does Baptism have to do with this?
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:3-5By the glory of the Father, those who died in the theatre that tragic night who believed and were baptized can confidently proclaim with the rest of those who have gone on to be with the Lord before us, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
For those in Christ who died the tragic death that night are not actually dead, but sleeping. Thanks be to God that despite our own murders which makes ourselves deserving of death, that He will one day raise us again into eternal life.
Psychologists have tried to describe what it is that caused someone like James to have such a fall from being someone who was on the road to a doctorate and someone who seemed to have no problems with the police or seemed to struggle with any particular problems to someone who opened fire in a theatre. From what I remembered from the ABC News broadcast, they were saying that because it appears now that James had no vendetta against the movie-making industry or was targeting one specific person who had wronged him, this was most likely the case of someone who had fallen into a deep depression and who looked at the cause of his distress as simply other people. He could not pinpoint specific people that led to his depression, but he knew that other people had wronged him, and he needed to get back in some way. He let his anger build, and build, and build. In the eyes of God, he had already committed murder more often than he did that tragic night. James Holmes lashed out on his anger just like we lash out on our anger. Now let me point you to a specific detail that has often gotten lost in the shuffle of all of the news surrounding this tragedy:
Teams of police, firefighters, and scientists have been coming together to try to figure out how to get into James’ apartment without setting off the booby traps that could potentially ignite the entire complex. Why were those booby traps set in the first place? To kill any police officer or detective who would break into his apartment after the shooting. How did they know that the apartment was booby trapped?
James told them. Maybe even for a split second, this murderer felt remorse for his actions, just like we have our moments where we realize just how badly we angered against our own neighbors who have sinned against us. Who knows. Hopefully time will answer these questions about why this had to happen.
I do want to note, his actions are in no way excusable when it comes to the authority of the left-hand kingdom to punish and subdue those who have done evil, and I certainly hope he is brought to justice for his actions that night (and certainly, the death penalty is certainly in order in an event as tragic as this). I certainly will never wish that he gets acquitted of his actions in this lifetime, but the hope still remains for James as it does with all of us who lash out on our anger, that we realize what we have done against the Lord and our neighbor, repent and be forgiven. We pray that the Holy Spirit brings James to repentance and forgiveness in the washing of rebirth and regeneration in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Wir sind alle Mörder. We are all murderers.
For a fantastic treatment of where God was at in this tragedy, see this post by Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO.
For another retelling of the event from a truly Christian perspective who was actually in the theatre at the time, this blog post is also a great read.
Here is also a sermon preached by Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller at a Saturday evening prayer service. Fantastic Gospel.