A rushed parent. A quiet child. A hot day. You forget to get your child out of the car. You just forget. The Aiken Standard is trying to help. This week it ran the front page headline Look before you lock. Governor Nathan Deal thinks this is such a significant issue that he actually launched a statewide campaign in Georgia to prevent hot car deaths called Look Again. We understand why. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.
Or is it? There are sickening allegations coming out of Cobb County, GA right now. The story is simple. Justin Ross Harris left his son, Cooper, a beautiful toddler locked in his SUV in the middle of a Hotlanta summer. The question is why. Was it the act of a distracted, busy parent? Or was it the act of a brazen murderer?
Cobb County’s finest allege that this was a homicide. They claim to have some chilling evidence. There was a Google search performed trying to determine how hot it had to be outside to kill an animal trapped in a car; there was research on how to survive in prison; and there were articles read on Reddit called “child free.” Then there was the bizarre and adulterous behavior of the alleged murderer while he was at work that day. According to a CNN report, “he was exchanging nude pictures and explicit texts with up to six women.” It’s not hard to imagine a prosecuting attorney arguing that that is exactly how someone might cope - albeit through awful, sinful, negative behavior - while suffering from overwhelming guilt.
Yeah, I know. It’s heavy, heavy stuff. I don’t like it either. The thought that someone could commit premeditated murder against their own child - we even have a word for it: a filicide - is, well, nothing short of horrifying.
There’s often a question that comes to our minds when we come across atrocities like this. It’s this one: How could they?
How could they?
How could someone with a mental capacity like mine? How could someone with emotions like mine? How could someone with a will like mine? In short, how could someone with a humanity like mine? How could they?
Did you know that the Bible makes some pretty startling and stark claims about humanity? It uses words like blind (2 Cor. 4:4), dead (Eph. 2:1), and hostile (Romans 8:7) to describe what naturally lies beneath our skin. Really smart, wonderful, Christian people have long called this phenomenon original sin. That means that our baseline, our starting point, our natural self is to look to please ourselves and give God, natural law, etc. the shove. And from time to time - when that nature is not constrained by threat of law or repented of in faith - it manifests itself in ways that make us sick to our stomachs.
Why do I bring this up? FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL! How’s that for shouting in print :-)? I don’t like, enjoy, or look forward to talking about difficult, hard truths, but I will because they serve the gospel. How does this serve the gospel? Let me explain.
Some are under the false assumption that Christianity is only a belief about Jesus. That’s actually not entirely true. Christianity isn’t just a belief about Jesus. If it was, the Bible wouldn’t have so many stories of people gone haywire. Christianity is also a belief about yourself. Let me say it another way. You will have a Jesus that matches what you believe about yourself.
That’s why, for example, when the Small Catechism makes its statement about Jesus it simultaneously makes a statement about us. Check this out. It's from the explanation to the Second Article of the Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature… (emphasis mine)” It’s just like the Small Catechism says. Christianity isn’t just a belief about Jesus. It’s also a belief about yourself.
Let me illustrate why this is so important to grasp. If you believe that you’re a person who does ok except when life gets tough, then Jesus will be your friend. He will be someone you pray to, look to, and lean on in suffering. You’ll see him as someone who is there for you when you need him. On the other hand, if you believe that, yes, you’ve got some significant issues, then Jesus will be your most excellent, superstar guide and light through your darkness. You’ll even understand him to send his Holy Spirit to get you over the sanctification hump. Now let’s be clear. Jesus is all of those things, but he’s not principally any of those things. He’s so much more.
If, as the Bible claims, you are hopelessly bent inward, lost, and condemned, then you need more than a friend. You need more than a superstar guide. You need a person who can perform a divine rescue. You need a Savior. And you’ve got one! You have a Light for your darkness. You have Forgiveness for your sin. You have a Selfless one for your selfishness. You have Life that awakens, cures, and resurrects you - get this! - both physically and spiritually. He’s everything that we aren’t and everything that we need. You have a Savior. That’s who Jesus is.
Now’s let’s apply this to the happening in Atlanta. There is a better reaction in the face of atrocity than be stunned, clap our hands over our mouths, and ask, “How could they?” It’s this: be stunned, clap our hands over our mouths, and ask, “How could Jesus?” How could he really see everything that we are and still care? How could he see all that darkness with his holy eyes and do anything other than walk away? How could Jesus?
When we ask that question with clear, unblinking eyes trained on our born natures, our amazement can only grow that he stared straight into the heart of darkness and it only fueled his resolve to die for it. So ask that question. Ask it about whatever it is that happened in Georgia on that hot day. No. Ask it about yourself. And then answer it! With faith! You’ll find that the answer is grace - oceans, streams, and torrents of grace straight from the heart of God to you.