The unanswered question in theater number nine

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By David Whitlock



It’s the first question I asked, and likely the one you first asked, too.

It still echoes from theater number nine in the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were murdered and 58 injured.

And it’s the one question we will never completely know.

We will in time learn the details of the hows: how he ordered the materials police say he used for the deadly booby traps found in his apartment; how he purchased the guns; how he so elaborately rigged his apartment with explosives and chemicals and how he allegedly staged his murders. We may even learn how particular social and personal conditions led to his heinous act.

We are interested in those hows, but it’s the why that eludes us.

Why would a brilliant, budding young scientist with a stellar academic record, a young man with no criminal history beyond a traffic violation, a student among the academically elite working on his Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, why would he meticulously plan and carry out one of the most deadly crimes in U.S. history?

We feel better if we can find a reason. The media once again jumped to conclusions. Within hours of the massacre, ABC News’ Brian Ross erroneously reported that a man with the same name as the suspect living in the same town was a member of the Colorado Tea Party. ABC promptly apologized.

Such efforts to politicize the murderous actions of a crazed man are futile attempts to answer the question why.

We may feel better if we can find a reason for senseless acts of violence. And it’s OK to ask why. It’s our nature to ask why because we want a reason, a logical explanation for a senseless, meaningless act. We want to bring order to chaos. We somehow feel that if we can find an explanation for the evil, we can take measures to avoid it.

This murderous action reminds us that intelligence and academic achievement do not always equate with sanity or good moral judgment. An intelligent mind can be used for good or evil, according to how one chooses to use it. God is not a puppeteer.

And evil by its very nature is senseless, opposing all that God is. We cannot always understand the why of evil. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Our unanswered question in no way diminishes God’s presence among the grieving. Though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, surrounded by evil, God is still with us in our suffering and pain, even though the dark night may rise, momentarily extinguishing the light, and the pain may overwhelm, temporarily numbing our awareness of him.

ABC News aired a video showing the suspect, James Holmes, speaking at a science camp at Miramar College in San Diego when he was 18. He gave a presentation on “temporal illusion,” which Holmes defined as “an illusion that allows you to change the past.”

In the presentation, he says he studies subjective experience, which he says, “takes place inside the mind, as opposed to the external world.”

Somewhere in time the reality of the external world and the illusion of his inner mind collapsed into a reign of terror.

Why? Was it a “temporal illusion ... that allows you to change the past?”

Unfortunately it’s not. It’s just evil.

Knowing there is no explanation for it, we lovingly embrace those closest to us as we call on God to bring hope to the hopeless and healing to the hurting.