Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting that touched us so deeply, it’s daunting to comment since the wounds are still tender. Parents with tear-stained faces deserve our comfort and compassion. The Newtown community needs our support as they try to heal. These things we can agree on. But what do we say when words are never enough in the midst of such sorrow? Sometimes nothing.  However, as uncomfortable as it may be, a few observations are in order. 

Heaps of blame have been dished out for the unspeakable acts committed against the 20 defenseless children and six adults in the town painted as idyllic and peaceful. It’s the fault of assault weapons, high capacity magazines, violent video games, a callous culture, and the NRA, or so we are told. Some say it’s the GOP, God, antiquated laws and Adam Lanza’s mother who tried to move him away from his obsession with gaming and into society. However cathartic blame may be, it doesn’t help the hurting find answers. 

Connecticut’s chief medical examiner is looking for explanations in the genes of the killer’s brain while the emotionally shattered are flocking to churches, seeking pastoral counsel, and attending vigils. A real dichotomy is emerging as to where ultimate answers can be found and whether they are in the spiritual or physical realm. 

President Obama perhaps found the middle ground by touching both. He spoke to the soul in last Sunday’s memorial service and when he quoted Scripture he appealed to the ultimate source of authority and articulated at least in part, a message that could truly console and comfort.  He quoted II Corinthians which challenges us to fix our eyes not on the physical but rather on the unseen and eternal.  “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

In contrast, shrill calls for assault weapon bans and ramped up school security have drowned out the reality that the grieving are not primarily seeking help and consolation from legislative bodies, but are finding it in the church. If spiritual solace aids the souls of the grieving then why should moral and spiritual solutions for our torn culture be left in the pews?  Absent from the mainstream media and its addiction to the sound bite is serious public discussion of good and evil, human responsibility, sin, and moral judgments. Our hearts are sick with grief and our collective soul yearns for an answer but what our hearts know to be true, our minds seem no longer to be able to speak, at least in moral terms because generations have been deprived of a moral vocabulary. The cognitive dissonance is surreal.

"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart," said Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1973.  Guns are certainly part of this discussion, but where, as Solzhenitsyn would insist, is the discussion of the human heart? And moral training? Why the inordinate focus on the material object of destruction as if the human soul had nothing to do with how that object was used?  New gun laws may become a reality but lasting solutions to evil apart from the moral and spiritual realm will remain elusive.  

So we turn to Christmas, the story filled with eternity and weaved with strands of both hope and tragedy; Hope in that the Messiah came to restore peace and righteousness; Tragedy in that innocent babies were killed by a jealous King Herod, and that God’s great gift to mankind was eventually rejected and killed. Yet Christmas is ultimately a triumphal story of God’s love that we find wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—the spiritual meeting the physical we call the incarnation.  May each of us embrace Him this season. O Come Emmanuel.