Sin, Sickness, and Sandy Hook

I have a new post for hermeneutics today. It begins:

Like many parents across America, I spent the weekend shielding my children from news about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, even as I pored over reports that might offer some way to make sense of the horror. I saw comment after comment and post after post that tried to hone in on one aspect of this tragedy and from it craft a solution. There were the posts about increased gun control, that perhaps this mass murder can galvanize our politicians into another conversation about protecting the Second Amendment while also protecting our children from the senseless use of lethal weapons. Other writers and commenters looked to shooter Adam Lanza’s psyche to offer a reason for his crimes.

In “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” Liza Long, the mother of a child with an undiagnosed mental illness, writes about the threat her son poses to his family and his community. Her post has gone viral, with over 900 comments and 680,000 Facebook shares. She concludes: “It’s time for a meaningful, nationwide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.” In other words, mental illness is the problem, and increasing the social supports available to families will help prevent tragedies like last Friday’s.

For many Christians, however, this response to shootings only bolsters a society wed to therapeutic solutions to all human woes. A typical Christian response online was not to talk about mental illness but rather about the reality of evil. From this vantage point, Adam Lanza is but one extreme example of the moral culpability we all share as sinners. As Baptist theologian Albert Mohler writes: “we cannot accept the inevitable claims that this young murderer is to be understood as merely sick . . . The sinfulness of sin is never more clearly revealed than when we look into the heart of a crime like this and see the hatred toward God that precedes the murderous hatred he poured out on his little victims.”

So which one is it? A neurobiological disorder that needs therapy and medicine? Or a sin disorder that needs God’s judgment and forgiveness? And why does it matter?

To keep reading, go to Was the Sandy Hook Shooter Sinful or Just Sick? 

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About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).


  1. Hi Amy Julia — I find this piece concerning because it implies that mental illness is a choice — that someone who is mentally ill is “choosing” actions in the same way that they would without the mental illness — when we know that they are influenced by widely distorted thoughts. The untreated person with mental illness is no more responsible for their thoughts than a person with cancer is responsible for the cancer attacking her body. I don’t believe someone in the state that this young man was in is capable of making a choice. In my mind the whole event is a tragedy that says something very disturbing about our culture — and that includes the suicide (not just the homicides) and it includes a country that loses over 10,000 people a year to handguns — in comparison to other high-income countries where the rate is under 100. I’m not a religious person, and I don’t believe in the concept of sin as external to people — as a force that infects people. I was raised in a religious home but I don’t ever recall hearing a Christian defence for owning weapons. And most of all, Jesus to me appeared to be one who granted forgiveness without judgment, even to those who had not asked for it.

  2. Read it, liked it, left a comment. Nice job, AJ.


  3. Louise, so glad that one of your comments finally got through! I didn’t in any way mean to imply that mental illness is a choice. In fact, I was trying to counter that notion. On the one hand, I share with other Christians the belief that sin is not simply a matter of our individual moral choices but also the systemic injustice we all participate within and the cause of all unchosen brokenness in the world, which includes cancer, mental illness, etc. With that said, I also think that to walk away from the idea of moral culpability altogether is problematic because most people with mental illness do not make the choices Adam Lanza did. To suggest that there was nothing evil at work here, even if it was evil acting upon him rather than him choosing evil, means that therapy and better drugs are our salvation as a human race, and I think there is a spiritual dimension to our problems that needs also to be addressed. All this is to say, I did not mean to imply that mental illness is a choice, but I did mean to imply that evil/sin at work in the world and in our personal lives is a significant factor whenever it comes to destruction and separation in our lives. I hope that helps clarify a bit. Thanks, Amy Julia

  4. There are some euro biological reasons that people behave the way Adam Lanza did; chemical imbalances in the brain and so on. And there are psychpathologies that are the result of emotional, physical, or a combination of both kinds of trauma that have not been adequately treated, or may not even have been diagnosed. Then there is the sin question, as Dr. Mohler points out. The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” This and many New Testament passages, especially Paul’s writings in Roman depict the power of the sin nature in fallen man to produce all kinds of evil.

    But there is yet a fourth force at work, a personal, overwhelmingly evil being whom Jesus called a murderer in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

    And this evil being commands an army of like evil spirit beings who have the same nature and the same desires as him. If anyone thinks that demonization does not exist today, I have a few names for you; Jefferey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Josef Mengele. I am convinced that in cases of mass murder or any other type of perverted, heinous crime, there lurks a strong possibility of demonic involvement. I have seen one up close in a human being; I have personally observed and felt the rage and the hatred, and I have heard personal testimony from ministers who have confronted them in people and cast them out in the authority of the name of Jesus of Nazareth.