The horror from Tucson is unlikely to leave our minds anytime soon. Fine public servants—including a Democratic congresswoman and a conservative judge—were despicably shot by Jared Loughner in broad daylight. Though bad enough, these casualties did not encompass the entire carnage. A sweet little girl also fell to this man’s gunfire, never to rise again, at least in this life.
The gunning down of fellow citizens and of public servants presents us with evil as old as Cain’s killing of Abel. That we as human beings possess such an ingrained tendency toward the destruction of our fellow men is appalling. Murdering human life attacks not only the murdered nor even humanity as a whole. Murder comprises an assault on God. Humanity is God’s creation and the destruction of innocent life attacks life’s Creator. Even more, each person killed in Tucson was created in the image of his or her Creator. I do not pause enough to marvel at the majestic thought that we possess the divine image, that God is pleased to grant us such a magnificent privilege. Nor do I often enough recall the wonder such a privilege conveys upon every person I meet, regardless of class, ethnicity, rank, religion, or politics. The divine image should raise our view of human beings every bit as much as sin lowers our understanding of fallen human nature.
Thus we must take this time to weep with those who weep. We must now re-assert the God-based dignity of our fellow men. Even more, we must proclaim our love for the image-bearer that mirrors our love for the Image-Giver.
We should not use this tragedy for crass ideological gain. The attempts to score cheap political points have been as predictable as they have been pathetic. Loughner does not appear to represent ideology and rhetoric gone over the line. His YouTube rants about mind control through grammar, his love for works such as The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, and a friend’s description of his political views as left-leaning all point not to a coherent political view coldly carried out but a derangement that knows no party. Though we should use this moment to reiterate our common humanity and to plead for civility in our disagreements, we should not raise this killer to even the low-level of ideological hack.
Instead, I hope this tragedy will begin to focus on one more issue of which I’ve heard too little thus far: mental illness. Our world is one of tattered relationships. These broken bonds include those of family, friendships, and with the natural world. Yet often the antagonism lay within the self. Too many of us fight melancholy, paranoia, and other emotions that sometimes seem beyond our control. Whether these be caused by our own sinful deeds, chemical imbalances, or a combination of both, such feelings can become the impetus to tempt us toward actions destructive to ourselves and those around us. We become isolated from loved ones and from the world in general. Loneliness then only feeds our growing hatred of self. Such hatred and hopelessness whispers the most terrible things in our ear, giving the most deplorable solutions, solutions spoken from the depths of Hell.
From the early picture of Loughner, Hell seems to have whispered from his darkness. Paranoid and rejected, Loughner listened to the hopelessness that sought forced company in his own escape by means of murderous destruction. Such melancholy is not foreign, at least not to me. I have seen depression all too close. Like murder, it denies the goodness of man, both as created by God and as made in his image. Like murder, it ultimately seeks to destroy this good, created image. It does so because it sees lies in the place of the truth. It sees hopelessness where there is hope. It sees the irredeemable where salvation is offered.
In depression and mental illness, the justification offered in Christ is shown to be so much more than a legal term, a manner by which to categorize persons’ status. Justification presents the deepest declaration of peace and acceptance to an embattled, lonely soul. It becomes the basis toward healing the broken relationships within the self and with the world around us because the ultimate relationship has been restored. In union with Christ, in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and in the Christian community that creates, true healing can occur. I pray for such restoration in Loughner’s life just as I pray for comfort for the families of his victims. May God use this time for many purposes. Yet I hope among those purposes is a call to those broken by their own internal strife, a call to the healing victory of the Cross over all that haunts us.