We are obsessively trying to figure out what made Cho Seung Hui do it. Why? Because if we don’t label it, if we can’t categorize it, then the illusion of our safety and the dream of our control are both shattered.
Mental illness is obviously high on the list of suspects – there can be no doubt that he was, at best, mentally unstable. At worst? Simply mad. A professor is now suggesting that Cho was imitating an extraordinarily violent and sadistic South Korean movie, Oldboy. Others have said it was isolation and the spurned love of a girl. I have even heard talk from some wondering if they should explore whether he was Christian and whether his church upbringing might have had something to do with it.
What strikes me as staggering in this discussion is what hasn’t been discussed – what the great British theologian N.T. Wright calls, “the satan.” In his books, Wright describes the figure this way: it “was seen by Jews as the quasi-personal source of evil standing behind both human wickedness and large-scale injustice, and sometimes operating through semi-independent ‘demons.'” Every Christian movement for 2000 years of history has acknowledged the presence of this force. Jesus himself repeatedly warned his followers about him. Exorcisms were common practice for Jesus and were apparently important enough for Mother Teresa, who had one performed on her in the later years of her life.
Yet here, now, to mention satan is to be greeted with sniggers and rolled eyes. What a pedestrian understanding of humanity, I am told. How… religious, some have said to me. Why?
As we look around our world – at 22,000 children a day who die of starvation, of scores of millions of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, at the exultation of evil and violence in film (Grindhouse anyone?), at loneliness and fear and anxiety and terror – is it somehow implausible to suggest that the satan is having a field day?
And what of Cho Seung Hui? Is it not possible that the best explanation for this sort of evil is the satan or one of the evil forces that respond to him? It is not possible to hold even a moderately orthodox view of the Bible, of Jesus, and of God and not acknowledge the power of the evil one. Yet where is the serious discussion now about that force’s power in Cho’s life?
Maybe those brave students that first horrible night have given us the greatest single insight into what really happened here; maybe those praying students who said the Lord’s Prayer over and over had it right by praying against the evil one and its power. Maybe we should be praying for the same thing.