The Columbine tragedy has been difficult for all of us. Emotions have ranged from anger to grief, from shock to disbelief. This event has stirred the concern of a nation that’s been suddenly awakened to the painful realization that there has been much going on in our country to which people seem to have become blind or indifferent.
We have watched the parents and students in Littleton, Colorado, and have felt compelled to imagine, “What if it had been our own children or grandchildren involved in this atrocity?” We have personalized this massacre. And we have grieved. We simply have not been able to force ourselves to face the reality that something like this could happen in such a seemingly idyllic, middle-class, all-American community.
How could this have happened? I believe an answer to this question may be found in the Isaiah 1. In this passage, modern-day parallels may be found. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had enjoyed a period of great prosperity, but the conditions in Israel had changed. Once again, she had rebelled against God’s authority. God, demanding loyalty from His people, had judged His nation by allowing Israel’s enemies to attack her. The morally corrupt Northern Kingdom was reduced to a puppet state and was headed toward God’s final judgment. Isaiah saw this and also foresaw the eventual punishment and exile of his countrymen in Judah. Isaiah encouraged the king to trust in the sovereign God who had the power to save and restore His people if they turned to Him. In verse one of chapter one of Isaiah we read:
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Isaiah had prophesied for forty years during the reigns of several kings of Judah. Some of these kings were better rulers than others. Some were more faithful to God than others. During the reign of King Hezekiah, Judah saw a revival of sorts. Hezekiah had trusted in the Lord, and God had delivered Judah from the hands of Assyria.1 This, however, was not enough to change the heart of this rebellious nation. Like Israel, Judah forsook the Lord.
Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and fumed their backs on him (Isaiah 1:4).
There have been offered so many opinions about who is responsible and who is to blame for the tragedy at Littleton. I am sure that you, like 1, have listened to the many experts with all their commentary. As I have tried to evaluate all that I’ve heard, I have identified several factors which I believe contributed to this dreadful event, as well as the other school shootings which have occurred over the last three years. I see parallels between the condition of Judah thousands of years ago and the contributing factors which have lead to these recent events.
1. Recanting Faith
Notice the spiritual condition of the nation in Isaiah 1:2. Isaiah pronounces God’s indictment against Judah. The heavens and earth are personified as the witnesses called to hear the Lord’s case against these evil children:
Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.”
Besides the judicial imagery, I believe that this passage from Isaiah reflects the image of a broken-hearted Father testifying that His rebellious children no longer know Him. A devastating change occurred in the lives of the Father’s progeny. It is unprecedented–even in the animal kingdom (Isaiah 1:3). Among the animals, the beasts know the source of their care and provision. The ox knows his master. He knows well who is the authority. Likewise, the donkey knows his owner’s manger. He knows upon whom he is dependent. The donkey is reliant upon his owner to provide a place of rest and food. But not so with wicked man. The Father’s own children have forgotten the Source of their blessing and provision. They have become a rebellious nation — forgetting what their Master has done for them, and forsaking Him who reared them (Isaiah 1:2). Today, we, too, have forgotten all that God has done for us as a nation and as individuals. We have chosen to forsake our Father.
If you go into the Jefferson Memorial, you will see quotes from the Declaration of Independence. Also, should you look carefully, you will see two penetrating sentences etched into the wall. One sentence reminds all who pass by that “God who gave us life, give us liberty.” The second sentence forewarns: “Can the liberties of a nation be secure if we have removed from the hearts of the people the belief that these liberties are a gift from God?”2 Have we forgotten Who has blessed us as a nation?
Alexander Solzheinitsyn, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, endured Russian persecution because of his faith in Jesus Christ. He spent years in Siberia, because he would not renounce the name of Jesus. He has written poignantly of his experiences, as well as the events in Russia where sixty million people died. He recounts when he was a child going to church with his mother — to the only church that was allowed to be open in that society. People would taunt him and his mother. When he went to school, children would often tear off the cross that he wore around his neck.
In later years he asked the older people, “What happened? What happened to our country? Sixty million people are dead, and we have been under this brute of a tyrant during these years. What happened?” Solzheinitsyn said that the consensus of all the old people could be summed up in one sentence: “Men have forgotten God–that is why all of this has happened.”3
That is exactly what happened to Israel. That is what happened to Judah. That is what is happening today in America. A few years ago, at a Ligonier Conference which was held at our church, R.C. Sproul issued the somber pronouncement: “America is a post-Christian nation.” What did Dr. Sproul mean by that indictment? You see, our nation was never really “Christian” in the sense that the majority of her citizens were born-again believers; yet, the spiritual fiber of our nation was shaped by Christian influence. Our nation was founded on biblical principles and Judeo-Christian values. We have become “post-Christian” in the sense that Christianity’s former influence has greatly diminished. This former spiritual legacy has been the gasoline which has fueled the greatest nation in history. Now the tank in nearing “empty.” We are running on the fumes, because we have forgotten God.
2. Renouncing Values
How did this happen? When did this happen? I’m not sure. It seems that in the 1960’s things began to change. From 1960 to 1990 violent crime went up 560 percent. The divorce rate quadrupled. Illegitimate births increased 400 percent. Single parent homes tripled. Teenage suicide went up 200 percent. The average SAT score has dropped 30 points. One third of all pregnancies ended in abortion. What do these trends indicate?
There has been a shift not only spiritually, but philosophically, as well. In the 1970s our world moved from modernity into postmodernity. The only thing remaining in the relative vacuum left by “the death of God” was a body of primitive instincts aimed at self-preservation and self-promotion. The measure of man became himself. Skepticism began to grow faster than kudzu across our nation.
Our nation lost its “center” somewhere over the last three or four decades. Values were no longer grounded in appeals to a realm beyond the human mind, (i.e., to God).4 Values were assigned worth only inasmuch as what they meant to a given individual at a given moment in time. So in our nation we have seen the rejection of biblical values. We have lost the moral center of our nation.
The 1824 Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a man who had been sentenced to time in prison for publicly pronouncing that the Bible was a just a fable. Compare that to recent court rulings. In 1991, in that same state of Pennsylvania, the conviction of a murderer was thrown out because the prosecuting attorney used the Bible in his summation to the jury.5 Just days before the Littleton massacre, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas ruled that clergy could not counsel students or teach moral values in public schools. How ironic! When we push God out of our courtrooms, out of our schools, out of our businesses, and out the backdoor of our homes, then to what authoritative standards of right and wrong do we appeal? How are we to train up our children in this post-Christian, post-modern world? We are sick of being sick, but we have locked the Great Physician out of the house.6
Our moral condition strikingly resembles that which Isaiah addressed. Isaiah records that the Lord compares His people to the wretched people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9-10):
Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become life Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah. Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
In judgment of their perverse moral state, God destroyed those cities and their inhabitants. Now Israel and Judah were like these two evil cities in God’s eyes. They did not recognize His moral authority. Their human desires ruled supremely. They became as a running sore a wound from top to bottom–oozing infection that was afflicting the people of God (Isaiah 1:5-6). Does any of this sound familiar? Could Isaiah be describing our country?
Dr. George Roche, president of Hillsdale College, addressed our postmodern condition in his remarks that “when we look at the country today, we see loss — loss of values. Political correctness has become the matrix of the way we work today. All differences in ideas, values, and life styles are equally valid and any attempt to prefer one over the other is an act of prejudice… Questions of race, gender, class, and power are the only real issues governing human events.”7
We have lost a sense of value that brings meaning to our lives and the way in which we relate to each others. If everything is equal, there is no correct opinion, no absolute authority, no right and wrong; therefore, anything goes. This is dangerous for a nation. It can only lead to anarchy. For example, in the home, if parents don’t have any grounds for authority, and if parents don’t act with authority, then the child’s opinions and choices are just as good as the parents. Apply that to the laws of our country. What if we chose not to recognize their authority. To what could that lead? Disaster? Another Columbine?
3. Rejecting Truth
We, as a nation, have come to resist the belief that there is absolute truth. Like Pilate, we ask, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). In fact, not only is it impossible for us to know truth, there is no absolute truth. We have allowed this credo to be taught in our schools, and sometimes, even from our pulpits. No longer do we embrace “knowledge is power” — for nothing can be known. There simply exists a multiplicity of views and worlds. We have rejected a realist, “common sense” understanding of the world, knowledge, and truth in favor of a nonrealist, subjective understanding.8
Twentieth-century linguists argue that we can not simply match bits of language to bit of the world, nor can we ever expect any given language to provide an accurate statement about the world. It all depends on the context in which we are speaking. We inhabit a globe consisting of “multiple realities.”9 Tragically we have watched as our country’s president evaded the truth of the Monica Lewinsky scandal by his skillful manipulation of language in order to provide his version of reality.
We have bought into the lie that truth is relative, and that it all depends on one’s point of view. This is ridiculous! We need a reality check. There are absolutes. Sixty seconds is a minute and always will be. Two pints is a quart and always will be. Twelve inches is a foot and always will be. Sixteen ounces is a pound and always will be. Objective, absolute truth exists. Why do we continue to follow a lie? Truth can be known.
Isaiah records the Just Judge summoning Judah to approach Him at the side bar. In language reflecting a forensic discourse, the Lord says, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).
It is time we exercise sound reason. Shall we continue to teach our children the truth or a lie? Valeen Schnurr was one of the Columbine students who was shot for bravely proclaiming faith in God in the face of death. Of these students, she is the lone survivor. Valeen was among the most critically wounded, suffering nine bullet and shrapnel wounds. She was in the library, trying to hide as the gunmen unleashed a barrage of bullets and bombs. When the bullets and shrapnel hit her, she slumped and clutched her abdomen. Hearing her cry, “Oh, my God!” one of the gunmen taunted, “God! Do you really believe in God? Amazingly, this Christian student responded, “Yes. I believe in God!” Why?” the gunman asked. “I do believe in God. And my mom and dad have taught me about God,” she bravely proclaimed. Miss Schnurr’s courageous statement of faith has resulted in a wave of people coming to know Christ. Scores of salvation experiences have been reported. “The truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
Valeen’s parents taught their daughter about absolute truths, especially the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This extraordinary believer embraced and proclaimed truth even in the face of death. It is true: Would a martyr be willing to die for a lie?
4. Ravaging Character
In 1995 Reader’s Digest polled 3,000 top students, the “Who’s Who in American High Schools.” The magazine reported that 78% of the students admitted cheating. 89 percent of those polled said that cheating was common in their schools.10 In his book The Good Society, Robert Bellah writes that the home, the church, and the school are the arenas for building character; however, these arenas have now become the sources of testing of character.11 No doubt, there is a hole in the moral ozone in our society.
We are guilty of ravaging the character of our nation. We have allowed evil to exist unchecked all about us, and we have done little to thwart its insidious stranglehold. We have watched as our children have been time and again harmed by the assaults on their developing character. In a recent broadcast, Dr. Laura commented on the American Library Association’s lobbying to make the Internet accessible to all who come to libraries. In doing so, a child could drop by their public library, access the Internet, and view any type of pornography out there. The ALA insists that if we deny Internet access to all, we are robbing our young of this right and privilege. Where in the world are adults with common sense? Where in the world are people who say that we have a responsibility to aid in the character development of our children? They are our children.
Several years ago I had the privilege of hearing Senator Sam Nunn at a National Prayer Conference. He recalled that during the terrible war in Bosnia, there was a reporter covering Sarajevo. Nunn said that as this reporter was observing the scenes of battle which were before him, a little girl, who was walking down the street, was suddenly shot by a sniper. He then saw a man run over to the child and pick her up. All of a sudden, the reporter forgot he was an observer. He threw down his pad and pencil, and ran out to assist the man. Together, they picked up the little child. The reporter said he could tell that the girl was dying, as the bullet had gone across the back part of her head, blowing away a good portion of her skull. She lay dying in the man’s arms.
The man said to the reporter, “Hurry! Call an ambulance! My child is dying!” The reporter did not hesitate. Instead, he got his own car, and loaded the man and the child in the car. He then drove as fast as he could to the hospital. He said the man kept saying, “Hurry my child is dying!” With this, he drove faster and faster. “Hurry my child is dying!” The reporter drove faster and faster. “Hurry my little child is not warm anymore!” Again, he drove faster. “Hurry, hurry! My child is cold!”
When they finally arrived at the hospital, the little girl was pronounced “dead on arrival.” The reporter said that he and the man went into a lavatory to wash away the blood of this precious child which covered them both. Then the oddest thing happened. The man turned to the reporter and said, “I don’t know what I’m going to tell her father.” Shocked, the reporter responded, “I thought you said that she was your child!” The man turned to him and said, “Aren’t they all our children?”12
The children in our communities, in our schools, and in our neighborhoods are all our children. The consequence of a nation which turns her back on God and forsakes standards of right living, is the ravaging the very character of her young.
God called Judah to consider the evidence before He rendered a verdict. In His courtroom, God reminded His people of the terms of their legally binding covenant with Him.13 They were to live lives reflecting His very character. Isaiah records the Lord’s stern decrees to His people:
Your hands are full of blood. Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, (Isaiah 1:15-17).
5. Refusing Responsibility
Refusing to take personal responsibility for one’s actions and refusing to take responsibility for one’s neighbor’s well-being are the natural outgrowths of four societal factors we have previously considered. When one rebels against faith in God, renounces the values of a sound society, rejects truth in favor of lies, and ravages the character of himself and others, then why would one even consider assuming personal responsibility for himself, much less for his fellow man?
We have seen the symptoms of this fifth factor especially in the lives of our nation’s young people. There is a steady decline in compassion and empathy for others. There is unprecedented growth of distrust and disloyalty. There is an increase in violent crime and discontentment. Recently I was with youth evangelist, Jay Strack, when he made the statement, ‘You know, today’s generation of young people are rootless, restless and ruthless. Not all of them, thank God, but some of them.”
A few years ago, a man by the name of Mohammed Jaberipour, age 49, drove a Softee ice cream truck on his neighborhood rounds in south Philadelphia. While on his daily route, a sixteen-year-old boy tried to rob Mohammed. In the attempt to rob him, the boy killed Mohammed. While this father of three lay dying, children and teenagers surrounded him. Instead of coming to Mohammed’s aid or apprehending the assailant, the young encircled the crime scene and made up a rap song about the tragic event. They began rhythmically chanting, “He killed Mr. Softee! When finally an older friend of Mohammed’s came upon the scene and began helping his slain friend, these same callous young people asked the “Samaritan” to dip ice cream for them. He said they were laughing as if only a cat had died.14
To neglect the root, we sacrifice the fruit. What is the root of our turmoil? What have we sacrificed in order to get ourselves in this mess? When a nation turns her back on God, on the values that made her great, the truth on which she was established, and the character which made her strong, then that nation will turn her back on her citizens — and her citizens on their fellowman.
Government is not the answer to our nation’s dilemma. There is no governmental intervention or program that will rectify the crisis we face today. Though they may try, commentators will not be able to pinpoint who or what is to blame for the tragedy at Columbine, unless and until personal responsibility is identified. Yes, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are personally responsible for this atrocity. Who else should assume personal responsibility for the shootings and bombing? The investigation is ongoing.
It is time for meaningless finger-pointing to stop. The time has come for us as individuals — and as a nation — to sincerely repent of our sinful ways and to turn to our heavenly Father to heal us and to restore us. Isaiah writes that the Judge of mankind orders the Judahites to stop offering their meaningless sacrifices and prayers before the court (Isaiah 1:12-16). They were coming before God, not in sincerity or penitence, but in arrogance and continuing guilt. They must “stop doing wrong, learn to do right” (Isaiah 1:17). Only then will the God of mercy forgive their offenses and restore them as His people. His is an amazing offer of salvation to this condemned nation: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Restoration is offered; however, if Judah continues to rebel and not live by the terms of God’s covenant with her, terrible judgment will come upon her.
The day of the Lord, far worse than that at Columbine, is at hand. A public official in New York is quoted as saying, “The dikes are crumbling and we’re running out of fingers.”15 Samuel Adams said, “There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”16 This sounds all too prophetic for us as a nation. Could America be committing suicide? The psalmist writes, “The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God” (Psalms 9:17). Have we forgotten God?
“If you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:20). “But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish” (Isaiah 1:28). Though these verses are addressed to Judah, they serve as a present day reminder to America, (formerly known as “one nation under God”). Rebellion will bring judgment; however, obedience will bring blessing:
“If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land” (Isaiah 1:19).
Neglect the root, sacrifice the fruit. God sits in judgment of our sin — private and corporate. Sin is at the root of our personal and national problems. We stand convicted of our sin. In a ruling of mercy, the Just Judge does not sentence us to life without hope. He offers us salvation and restoration. By grafting the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the roots of those who believe, the compassionate Savior allows us to bear fruit that change lives and change the world:
…The branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors… (Isaiah 4:2).
Through true repentance of sin, through faith in His Son, and through lives lived under His control, America can bear beautiful and glorious fruit once again! She may recover:
– Redeeming Faith,
– Refining Values,
– Reforming Truth,
– Reviving Character,
– Rectifying Responsibility.
Could this truly be possible today? While known for her martyrdom during the Columbine massacre, Rachel Scott was also well known and respected at Orchard Road Christian Center for the life she led. Attending the church for eighteen months, she was an active member of the leadership team for a Christian cell group led by her youth pastor.
Another one of her pastors shared that this courageous young Christian was also a fellow struggler in the faith. Reading an entry dated exactly one year prior to her death from her private journal, the pastor shared Rachel’s account of having a heavy heart and of carrying a burden that she didn’t understand. She wanted to cry, because she was losing close friends when she refused to yield to peer pressure.
“I lost all of my friends at school,” she wrote. “Now that I have begun to ‘walk my talk,’ they make fun of me. I don’t even know what I have done. I don’t really have to say anything, and they turn away … I know what they’re thinking every time I make a decision to resist temptation and follow God. They talk behind my back and call me ‘the preacher’s church-going girl.”‘ Her journal entry continues: “I used to drink with [name with-held], but since I’ve stopped she thinks that I am such a loser, and that God is just a phase to me. I have no more personal friends at school. But you know what? I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus … I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything, I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best friend Jesus, then that’s fine with me.”
The remarkable stand that Rachel declared silently in her journal a year before her death was reflected in her actions. Two pastors at Orchard Road said that she was very vocal about her beliefs. Even knowing she would be harassed, Rachel performed Christian-based skits for the school talent shows. She was passionate for God and for other people. Her pastor said, “She loved them and wanted them to know Christ. I was amazed by the strength she had to stand out.”
As He called Rachel, God calls us to renewal. He calls us to respond in faith to His bidding. He calls us to value life — life gained by Christ’s sacrificial death –and to reflect that value in the way we live. He calls us to have a passion for the truths of His Word. He calls us to live lives reflecting the very character of His Son. He calls us to assume personal responsibility for ourselves, and for the lost and dying of this world. He calls us today. He calls us to commitment — total commitment. The time to repent and to turn to Him is now, whatever the cost.
You may ask, “Could one person’s renewal and commitment to Christ make much difference to a nation in such turmoil?” Rachel’s mother Beth Nimmo, would answer, “That was Rachel’s mission. It’s the one thing that gives us comfort, that her mission is being fulfilled through her death.”
Though painful to lose a child, Rachel Scott’s mother is comforted by the fact that her actions are helping to spread the gospel. This young martyr’s funeral, televised worldwide by CNN, has brought countless souls into the Kingdom of God. More than one hundred people, wanting to receive Christ as Savior or rededicating the lives to Him, phoned the church during the telecast. In these weeks after the funeral, strangers, seeking spiritual counsel, continue to come to Rachel’s church. Many come and simply say, “I need God.”17
Let me say, “Yes! One person can make a difference.” One solitary Man did two thousand years ago. His Spirit continues to enable individuals to make a difference today. He is the only answer for our lives and the only solution to the tragedy at Columbine–only God.
1Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville: Holman Bible, 1992), p. 378.
2Richard C. Halverson, Perspective, a bi-weekly devotional letter (McLean, VA: Concern Ministries), Vol. XLIII, No. 7, March 27, 1991, p. 1.
3Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Men Have Forgotten God,” Reader’s Digest (September 1986), p. 21.
4Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), p. 92-93.
5Peter Marshall, “America’s Heritage — America’s Hope,” SBC Life, June/July 1996, p. 16.
6Editorial, Christianity Today, September 29, 1967, p. 34.
7Jacques Barzun, Philosopher.
8Hilary Lawson, ed., Hilary Lawson and Lisa Appinganesi, “Stories About Truth,” Dismantling Truth: Reality in the Post-Modern World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), p. 4.
9Grenz, p. 32-33.
10George Roche, American Family Association Journal (n.d.), p. 12.
11David McKenna, The Communicator’s Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1993), p. 64.
12Transcript of Senator Sam Nunn, National Prayer Breakfast, February 1, 1996.
13James Leo Green, God Reigns (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1968), p. 37.
14Roche, p. 12.
15Ibid., p. 3.
16Austin Sorenson, “Is America Committing Suicide?” Sword of the Lord, 1994, p. 2.
17Ken Walker, Baptist Press release, May 1999.

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