Deliver Us from Evil
And while we were initially absorbed with what happened and how it happened, we are now left wrestling with the question of why it happened. Undoubtedly over the next few days, we will discover bits and pieces of the story. We will hear about mental illness, previous altercations, worrisome signs, and we will cling to these scraps as some sort of explanation for horrors that simply cannot be explained.
But even as the details become clearer, I’m afraid that it will become increasingly harder for us to truly understand. As the details take shape, we will be tempted to isolate this tragedy, to relegate it to the result of a broken mental health system or a society glutted with violence. And while we must have those conversations, we must not forget that what happened on Friday is part of something larger than any of us. What happened Friday in those now sacred halls was one more attempt by the Evil One to fight a battle that he has already lost.
Those of you who are literature buffs may remember Shakespeare’s play Henry V. The story climaxes as a young King Henry successfully leads his ragtag English army to victory over superior French forces at the Battle of Agincourt. During the battle, when it becomes apparent that the English will prevail, a band of French soldiers slip behind the English lines to do the unspeakable—they slaughter the young boys who had been left at camp.
In Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film adaptation, the fighting on field abruptly stops when the air is pierced with high-pitched screams of panic and anguish. The soldiers rush back to camp to discover their boys--their sons--murdered. Viewing their lifeless bodies, a war-hardened Henry wails, “I was not angry since coming to France until this instant!” War is one thing—that is business—but there is a code of honor, a code of warfare that is supposed to keep the innocents safe.
But as we were reminded last Friday, the Evil One does not play by the rules.
Especially when he is on the run, especially when he knows that he has been defeated. Instead, the Evil One lashes out in fits of senseless, puerile rage because he knows that the only thing left to him is the possibility of inflicting suffering as he flees. As the Apostle John recorded in The Revelation, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath because he knows that his time is short.”
This is also why, despite all the coming conversations about mental health and gun control and school security, we will never be able to make sense of what happened that cold morning in Connecticut. We will never be able to make sense of it because there is no explanation, there is no reason, there is no point. When the Evil One attacks, he destroys all that is natural, all that is good, all that is beautiful, all that is just. And he does so by attacking the weakest among us.
This randomness, this refusal to play by the rules is precisely what makes him so terrifying and why it is easy for us to fear him. Deep in our souls, we know that for all our precautions, for all our legislation, for all our whispered prayers, we cannot predict where he will strike next. And so, even as we desperately pray for the Father to deliver us, we wonder whether or not He will. And sometimes in the worst of the battle, when the skies are darkest, we don’t even know if He can.
As Henry and his men stand helplessly surveying the carnage, a French herald rides into the English camp. Snapping from his stupor, Henry lunges at him, throws him to the ground, and is seconds from impaling him when the herald cries out that he is come seeking terms of surrender. Soul-worn and body-weary Henry responds simply, "I tell thee truly, herald, I know not if the day be ours or no."
Translation: I don’t even know who is winning anymore.
In this life, in the muck and mire, in the sweat and tears, we too don’t always know who is winning. It seems very likely that the Evil One prevailed on Friday. If the grief and pain in our hearts is to be believed, he certainly did. But he did not.
Instead the grief and pain must remind us that we grieve precisely because things are not as they should be; and the fact that things are not as they should be promises that one day they will be. The fact that the Evil One acts in such deranged, malicious ways proves that he is helpless; his very struggles testify to a prevailing and conquering God. Because in battle, only the winning side has the capacity to be generous, to spare the lives of its enemies; the losing side cannot risk it.
And so we endure in hope and longing. We wait not in fear, but in power and love and sound minds. Power that enables us to continue the fight against the darkness. Love that allows the pain to seep into the corners of our well-guarded hearts and break us so that we weep—deep, guttural wrenching sobs—with those weep. And sound minds that remind us that we do not despair as those who have no hope; we know this is not the end.
We know that for the all times that the Evil One tries--for all his cowardly acts of violence, for all his desperate attempts—he is not winning. Christ has conquered; the Evil One is defeated and he is fleeing the battlefield. Through His own valiant struggle, our King has made him a weak, pitiful, paltry, powerless fool; and through His own victorious resurrection, our King can give life even to those the Evil One tries to destroy.
This is all we can know. This is all we can understand. And yet, it is enough. It is enough to know that even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and even as we cry to our Father to deliver us from the Evil One, we do not fear because we know that He is with us and we know that He already has.