Depraved Indifference: Thoughts on the Aurora Murders
Lessons from Aurora
In the American legal system, there is a phrase used to identify a certain mindset that leads to horrendous crimes. That phrase is “depraved indifference to human life.”
Here is the way the criminal justice system understands “depraved indifference”:
To constitute depraved indifference, the defendant’s conduct must be so wanton, so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so lacking in regard for the life or lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes a crime. Depraved indifference focuses on the risk created by the defendant’s conduct, not the injuries actually resulting. The other term used for depraved indifference is “depraved heart.”
Think about this for a moment with me. Even if a person does not actually commit a physical crime, he can be guilty of it owing to “depraved indifference” as a person who has a “depraved heart.”
As I reflect on the Aurora, Colo., massacre, that phrase keeps repeating itself in my mind. What led an otherwise apparently smart and successful young man to stockpile thousands of rounds of ammunition for a variety of weapons, rig his apartment to explode in a fireball, and then enter a theater and kill and wound so many? Depraved indifference to human life, that’s what. We will hear raging debates about gun control and “if only” there had been the right rule, or regulation, or control in place, this would not have happened. And to that I simply say, “Maybe, maybe not, but I highly doubt it.”* Why? Because the issue here is the young man’s depraved indifference to human life. The acting out on that impulse was where the crime originated.
As people reel in horror and shock from this incident, everyone wants to try to put his finger precisely on what caused this young man to “go crazy.” Surely, he must be crazy. He has to be out of his mind. He is suffering from mental illness. He is not normal. He is not like you and me. No, he is something other than we are. That explains it, doesn’t it? Or does it? Viewed from God’s point of view, which is, in the end, the only view that truly matters, it is not quite that easy. After all, the Bible tells us that we are all born dead, not alive. We are dead in our trespasses and sin (Col. 2:13). We come into this world as enemies of God and hostile toward God and everything He stands for (Romans 8:7). We come into this world not merely with depraved indifference toward God, and with a depraved heart, but with active hostility to God’s perfect will for us and for His creation. There is not a “spark” of goodness in us as we are born. We are evil, continually, from our youth, as we learn from Genesis 6:5. People are not “naturally good” … no, we are all natural born killers. Shocking? Yes, it is. We all suffer, in various degrees, from “depraved indifference to human life.”
That indifference took on a spectacularly horrifying form in the movie theater shooting, but there is in each one of us a little “killer” just waiting to get out. And he gets out in thoughts, words and deeds. He gets out and does harm to our loved ones, friends and neighbors when we think the cruel thought; speak the hurtful word; fail to speak well of and defend our neighbor; and fall short of supporting and defending our neighbor, helping him to protect and improve his property, business, good reputation, or life. Keep in mind we live in a nation where tens of thousands of people are murdered, legally and with impunity, before they even have a chance to see the light of day as newborns. Yes, that Old Adam, as we call our fallen nature, is a natural born killer. Depraved indifference? You bet. It takes different forms and shapes and is expressed in a variety of ways in our life, but depraved indifference it is, in one way or the other.
Which then makes it all the more remarkable that God actually sent His Son into the very same human flesh which suffers from this horrible condition (John 1:14). The One who never had, and never will, commit any sin, was sent among sinful men and women to live the lives they cannot live, to provide the sacrifice for sin they could never provide, and He did it all for the sake of Love. God is love. God is light. God is the holy One. God is merciful. God is the life-creator and the life-giver and the life-restorer. Christ Jesus came among us and was born under the Law, to redeem us from the condemnation of the Law (Gal 4:4).
God is passionately concerned for the salvation of each one of us. He is the complete opposite of “depraved indifference” when it comes to His Creation. While we cannot ultimately, to our own satisfaction, explain precisely why the world is a place where horrible things happen, we can at least recognize that within each of us we see signs of depraved indifference to our neighbor’s needs and suffering.
We are led to repent of our sin, of our depraved indifference, and turn in great sorrow to the God of all comfort and seek the mercy He so freely gives. As our society struggles to come to terms with yet another gross outburst of sin, let’s not be caught up in the thinking that would have us isolate this young man and simply regard him as a freak, an oddity, somebody less than human. In fact, he is fully human and simply gave expression to the sinful nature each of us struggles with every day of our lives. Do you remember the answer Jesus gave when people were trying to get an explanation for a manmade tragedy, a tower falling on people and killing them, and why innocent people were killed by soldiers? (Luke 13:3). Jesus said simply, “Unless you repent, you likewise will perish.” Not exactly the kind of explanation we would want, but…the only one we receive, the only one we need to hear, and the only one we must act on, today. Repent.
This event should drive each of us to our knees in repentant prayer and pleading to God for His mercy. We pray for all those suffering from this seemingly “senseless” act of depraved indifference. We pray for God’s peace and comfort for all concerned, and that He would use this occasion as an opportunity to turn hearts to Him. We pray that God would use this incident to humble us all once more and help us to see how we are indeed poor, miserable sinners, and then once more turn to the Cross where the Lord of Glory died, apparently a senseless, tragic, violent death, in a manner that was an expression of depraved indifference to His holy, innocent life.
For it is there, on the Cross, that the blood that cleanses you from all your sin was shed, and three days later, the Lord rose in victory, shattering the shackles of sin, death and hell which grip you tightly. Christ is your Savior. Christ is your Redeemer. Cling alone to Him, for He has taken firm hold of you. You were buried with Christ, by baptism, into death in order that, just as Jesus was raised from the death, through the glory of His Father, so you have a new life, now, and for eternity to come (Romans 6:1-2). You now live in the confident hope that Christ alone gives, and you reach out in love and service to all whom the Lord puts in your lives. May God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Rev. Paul T. McCain
Concordia Publishing House
*Please see remarks on gun control in the comment following the article. I did not want to allow that issue to overshadow the point of my editorial.