It will be a long time before America forgets Columbine High School. Almost two weeks ago now, a couple of seniors at the school tried to blow away as many of their classmates as they could. By the time they were finished, they had tossed or planted almost fifty bombs, squeezed off a thousand rounds of ammunition, and killed fifteen human beings, including themselves.
The question on everyone’s mind is, Why did they do it? What made these boys commit this crime? Where did the evil come from?
The tragic events in Littleton, Colorado, reveal many things about the nature of good and evil. The first is that evil ultimately comes from the inside, not from the outside.
If all you had to go by was their high school pictures, you would think that the Columbine killers were ordinary kids. The evil in them did not come from poverty, that was obvious. Both boys lived in beautiful homes. They had everything money can buy; but then, money can’t buy everything. Nor were they evil because they lacked intelligence. By all accounts, they both had plenty of smarts.
But evil does not depend on what people look like, or where they live, or how much talent they have. Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matt. 15:19). The reason evil can be so hard to spot is because it lurks within the human heart. Human beings are sinful by nature, and we should not be surprised when they sin.
The Columbine killings also show how evil grows and spreads unless it is stopped. If anyone had cared to notice, there were plenty of warning signs that these two high school students were headed for trouble. There was the angry music. There were the Nazi salutes. There was the arsenal in the garage. There was the website, with its racist slogans. There was the videotape they made for class, full of guns and violence. There was the graffiti on the bathroom wall, which said, “Columbine will explode one day. Kill all athletes. All jocks must die.”
There were the violent movies, like Natural Born Killers, which the gunmen watched over and over again. There were the video games they played, too, with their casual killings and gruesome effects. In fact, one student said the killers acted like they were playing a video game, choosing their targets at random and laughing when they died.
The Bible says that evil comes to him who searches for it (Prov. 11:27b), and these boys were searching for as much evil as they could find. The atmosphere of evil around them kept getting thicker. The tragedy is that no one ever made them stop what they were doing, because evil always spreads until it is stopped.
Another lesson to be learned from these tragic events is that hatred breeds more hatred. There is an archway at Columbine which reads, “The finest kids in America pass through these halls.” That may well be true, although there were some things about Columbine that weren’t so fine. Most kids called the killers “dirtbags” when they saw them. It is not hard to see how someone who gets called a dirtbag all the time ends up angry at the world. If anything good can come from all this evil, perhaps people will learn to speak to one another with kindness rather than cruelty.
It is also good to be reminded that when the day of evil comes, there is no one to turn to except God. Call upon me in the day of trouble, God says in his Word, I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Ps. 50:15).
A lot of prayers were offered in Littleton on April 19, 1999, probably more prayers than had been offered in that town ever before. Inside and outside the school—everybody was praying. One boy was in the library, where most of the killings took place, lying on top of his sister and her friend, to protect them. “We prayed the hardest we’d ever prayed,” he said, “and God put an invisible shield around us.”
The members of the choir were praying, too. About sixty of them were crammed into the choir office, when someone whispered, “Who’s religious? Anybody in here religious?” Then someone began to pray, very, very quietly. “I was terrified on the outside,” said one student, “but on the inside God gave me peace. I felt like many others outside the school were praying for us.”
The mention of prayer brings us to a final lesson, which is that evil cannot triumph over good. One of the students who was killed last week was Cassie Bernall. Cassie already knew something about evil because she dabbled in witchcraft when she was a freshman. But some of her friends invited her to church, where she trusted in Jesus Christ for her salvation. She was well-known around school for being a Christian because she always carried her Bible around school.
While Miss Bernall was lying on the floor of the library at Columbine High, one of the gunmen came and asked her if she believed in God. She knew what the safe answer was, of course, but she said, “There is a God, and you need to follow along God’s path.”
That brave testimony came too late to do the kid with the gun any good. He looked down at Cassie and said, “There is no God,” and then he shot her. Where there is no God, anything is possible, and evil is inevitable.
But praise God, Cassie was right, as she has now discovered beyond her wildest dreams. There is a God, and he will not allow evil to triumph in his universe. He is the God who says to us: Do not fret because of evil men… for the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out (Prov. 24:19-20).
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org