Norway is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A Nordic paradise of fjords, coastline, glaciers, forests. Norwegians are rightfully proud of their prosperous, peaceful society.
Well, today, Norway is in a state of absolute, total shock in the aftermath of one of the most cold-blooded, heartless acts of terrorism since 9/11. The Norwegians are desperately trying to explain this senseless slaughter. The killer has been described as a right-wing extremist, a fundamentalist Christian, an anti-immigrant fanatic, and mentally ill. Most likely, in my opinion, a fascist.
But here are two root causes of this horrible act that few in Norway, or the rest of the Western world for that matter, will acknowledge: Evil and sin.
You see, Norway is one of the most secular countries in Western Europe. Hardly a shred left of the Christian faith that once dominated the country.
So, without that Christian understanding of fallen human nature, the people of Norway are left in mourning, but without an explanation for the horror that has befallen them.
I can’t help but think of a visit I made to a maximum-security prison outside of Oslo back in the 1980s. I tell this story in my book How Now Shall We Live? I was greeted by the warden, who was a psychiatrist. She gave me a tour of the place, which seemed more like a laboratory than a prison. We met so many other psychiatrists that I asked the warden how many of the inmates here were mental cases.
She replied, “All of them, of course.”
I was stunned. Really? “Well,” she said, “anyone who commits a violent crime is obviously mentally unbalanced.”
This was the ultimate expression of the therapeutic model. People, the reasoning goes, are basically good, so anyone who could do something so terrible as this must be mentally ill. And the solution is therapy. It is a tragically flawed and inaccurate view of human nature. And, as I learned just a few days later, a very dangerous one.
During that visit I preached the Gospel to the prisoners. They were completely numb to the message. But as I was leaving, a young correctional officer, a Christian, came up to me. She said she had prayed for someone to confront the prisoners with the message of sin and salvation. She was frustrated by the corrections system in Norway, where there was no concept of personal responsibility, and therefore no reason for prisoners to seek personal transformation.
Only days later, I learned the tragic news: The young officer I had met was assigned to escort an inmate out to see a movie as part of his therapy. On the way back to prison, he murdered her.
The point is this: when we attempt to explain away moral evil, we will fail to constrain it. We cannot account for human behavior without recognizing that we are fallen creatures prone to sin.
As a sad footnote to the Oslo tragedy, the maximum sentence a criminal can receive in Norway is 21 years. Thus, barring some extraordinary event, the Oslo terrorist will back on the streets in 2032. An Oslo police spokesperson put it this way: “What the world needs to understand about Norway, is that this incident represents our loss of innocence, because we’ve been a very safe country to live in until now.” She then added: “There’s been no reason to keep people in prison for life.”
But there has been and always will be. It’s called sin.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: July 26, 2011