Every once in a while a news item arises which arrests our attention, and stirs our emotions at a profound level. Even in our media saturated, war worn world - where death tolls are invested with the same emotional empathy as sports scores - some events chill us by their barbarity and horror.
The murder of thirty two students in Virginia Tech, along with the suicide of perpetrator Cho Seung-hui, is one such story. As is normal, the original shock was followed by questions of blame and accountability, with fingers pointed at university authorities and their approach to security and 'lock-downs'. This morning such considerations have themselves been eclipsed by the broadcasting by NBC of video tape footage of Cho's own explanation of the outrage.
All of this raises very interesting and powerful questions concerning the nature of victimhood and responsibility within our society. Today's lunchtime news sounded like a multi-layered exercise in passing the buck. Staff and students pointed a finger at poor security measures, Cho himself blamed the 'posh brats' whom he was to murder for bringing their deaths and his own to pass, those close to the bereaved questioned NBC's morals in making the footage public, anti-gun lobbies blamed the constitutional right to bear arms, and specialists blamed mental illness and sociopathic tendencies.
With such a complex blame game in progress it is easy to lose sight of the issue which everyone is avoiding - the true nature of humanity. An ITV reporter actually stated in her bulletin that it is not a mere matter of viewing this mass murderer as simply 'evil'. Apparently things are much more complex than that. We are keen to believe such things, entrusting our moral sensibilities to our most modern day witch doctors (the much celebrated and omniscient media psychologists) so that we don't have to reflect on what we have in common with Cho. The truth as Scripture states it is much easier to believe. We are evil, we are sinful, we are utterly depraved - there is no escape from that. We can shift our focus to the most exaggerated and indulged evil behaviours (such as Cho, or Baghdad bombers for that matter) in an effort to detract from our own wrongdoing, but ultimately in our hearts we know that we are terminally compromised in moral terms.
The reason why the media struggles so much with these issues, the reason for such intensity of explanation of Virginia Tech, rests with the fact that Cho's actions bursts their delusional bubble of a Coca-Cola ad world of improving humanity and joyous virtue. Our world is woefully wrong, hopelessly lost, inveterately godless.
The grotesque irony of this blood-soaked episode is that Cho lisped the one name which ought to resolve our concepts of victim and perpetrator: Jesus Christ. In the seared moral world of Cho's mind, Jesus had become a model for his own death, which he hoped would inspire others. The truth is, of course, so different. If we truly understand the cross and the atonement, we quickly realise that Christ was the true innocent who bore the final brunt of mankind's fall in Adam. He (to use a fairly inappropriate term) became the 'victim' of our fallenness and moral degradation. He was wounded 'for our transgressions', the 'just for the unjust' so that we might be reconciled to God. Such is God's love for us as sinners.
There are all kinds of tragedies being played out in the wake of Virginia Tech. The tragedy of families brutally bereft of young people whose lives seemed so fresh and latent just days ago; the tragedy of an America so littered with firearms that deadly wish fulfilment is made easy for individuals like Cho; the tragedy of a morally vapid media with no answers about our most basic behaviours. But the greatest tragedy is that like Columbine and 9/11 this event will pass, and having looked into the eyes of a media glorified mass murderer we will turn away, not seeing our own life reflected there, and not feeling the shadow of guilt which this casts upon us all.