In political campaigns of the past, some pundits boiled it all down by saying “it’s the economy, stupid!” And as the discussion regarding school shootings, and gun control, and Second Amendment rights rages on, I’d like to offer an additional viewpoint.
When bad things happen, we always start with the product. That is, what some set of actions or attitudes or societal constraints or mental illness has produced. In the most recent case, the conversations center on the horror of school kids being gunned down in the hallways while brave teachers sacrificed their lives to save some.
Then, inevitably, we attempt to dissect the process whereby the product was brought to reality. Was it poor parenting, or mental illness, or the lack of regulations? Most of all, we want to find out who was at fault, who deserves the blame, and how we can move our own political or religious view forward on the back of the most recent tragedy.
So, here’s my attempt to do just that. We all agree the product – the end result – is tragic, gut-wrenching, horrible and completely unacceptable. We all agree something must be done. But, as we move backward to assess the process that produced the gruesome event, we fracture into different camps, usually over the place and practice of gun ownership in a free society.
But I think we just haven’t gone back far enough. To explain, let me tell a little story. My father, Oscar Hegg, had a wonderful way with wood. His hobby was taking wood, and turning it into dining room sets, cabinets, rocking horses, and all manner of wonderful pieces of wooden artistry. The basement of my childhood home was a complete woodworking shop, complete with table saws, hand saws, planes, hammers, glue, clamps, and all manner of specialty woodworking tools. Dad had them all and knew just how to use them. Along the way, I learned a few things, but never became as proficient as my father. And, along the way, I also learned lots of things about life from the way Dad used tools to form rough wood into shapes of beauty.
Above all, I learned the necessity of having good material. I’ll never forget my Dad’s favorite saying:, “You can’t make good furniture out of bad wood.” What he meant was this. You can have the best processes, the best tools, the best skill and the best intentions, but you’ll never be able to overcome the badness of bad wood. For Dad, bad wood had everything to do with its innate character, whether it was filled with knots, or messed up grain, or had been weakened through exposure or infestation. Whatever the case, no amount of workmanship could make good cabinets out of bad wood.
It is time we woke up to the fact that the human heart can often be bad wood. We theologians believe we all come into this world damaged, with a propensity to selfishness and sin that, if not restrained through a fundamentally orthodox ethical system of faith and practice, will work itself out in increasingly selfish and destructive ways.
Yes, we must attack the problem of violence in multiple ways, including regulatory boundaries, increased safety personnel, and whatever else we can do to make schools, churches, homes, and all of our “places” as safe as possible.
But, if we stop there, we’ll never encounter the core issue that is the increasingly violent trajectory of the human heart when it is allowed to run free of ethical restraint. Just look at where our culture is going in terms of violence in the form of media and gaming. Are we really better off as a society after having jettisoned our traditional values? Are we really reaping any benefit from having thrown off the Judeo-Christian mantel with its biblical morality, respect for life as sacred, and the privilege of living out our lives as honorable, God-fearing citizens?
The decline has been slow, but very steady. The conviction that we need outside help from God to be what we should be has been replaced by the notion all we need is inside ourselves. We have pushed God and faith and the restraint they bring, first to the margins, and now completely off the page in too many places. That we are a fully secularized society is evidenced by the fact sincere religious commitment is no longer seen as an option in developing a sound, personal world view.
I agree the violence that is increasing all around us must be restrained. And I am all for whatever regulations will actually help. But regulations will never restrain bad wood from being and doing bad things. External compulsion works to some extent, but the real answer is internal compliance with what we all consider good. And that will demand a meaningful assessment by all of us to consider where we stand in relation to Almighty God.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.