It happened at the Century 16 Cineplex in the Town Center of Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. It was just after midnight, on July 20, 2012, at a screening of the latest Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. About twenty minutes into the film one of the viewers sitting near the front of the theater leaves through an exit door, but leaves it propped open. He returns dressed in protective gear wearing a gas mask and armed with an AR 15, shotgun, and two pistols. He tosses two tear gas canisters and as their smoke begins to fill the auditorium, he opens fire. It is 12:38 A.M.
Twenty-four year old James Eagan Holmes coolly shoots fellow moviegoers who think it is a promotional stunt at first, but quickly comprehend the deadly reality of the situation. Chaos follows. Calls to 911 begin within seconds and the first police officers arrive at the theater within a minute and a half. Before they can determine what is actually happening, Holmes exits the building returning to his vehicle in the parking lot behind the theater. Police arrest him without incident at 12:45. In those seven minutes of carnage Holmes has killed twelve people and wounded fifty-eight more.
In the aftermath Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates was asked if Holmes had a motive or a reason for his actions. Oates responded, “We’re not going to get into why he did what he did. We don’t have that information.” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said the scene of the shooting revealed an “act that defies description.” It was an inexplicable, horrific act of evil.
During these same seven minutes of terror there were acts of uncommon valor. Air Force Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress is credit with action that saved a fellow airman seated beside him, before being fatally wounded. Alex Teves pushed his girlfriend to the floor for her safety, but is gunned down before he can join her. Three others, Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and John Larimer, helped their girlfriends to the relative safety of the floor, shielded them with their own bodies, and died doing so.
During those seven fear-filled minutes in that theater in Aurora, Colorado, we have witnessed the two extremes of human nature. In Holmes’ murderous spree we see the depraved depth to which a troubled soul can stoop. In the selfless sacrifices of these five men we view the heights of heroism that can be reached. Humanity’s despicable and noble natures stood side-by-side.
We are now being told Holmes was under psychiatric care. Modern psychiatry believes great strides have been made in understanding the human psyche, but the truth is the more we think we know about the mind of man the less we do. The human brain is a labyrinth where even the most astute psychoanalyst can lose his way. If pressed for a cause none can say with certitude what triggered Holmes’ rampage. Modern psychiatry will not be able to explain Holmes’ reasoning anymore than Chief Oates could cite a motive. Like him, the best any psychiatrist can say is, “we don’t have that information.”
The Scriptures give us the best explanation for these two contradictory natures. In the first chapter of Genesis in the twenty-seventh verse we read, “God created man in His own image…” The Bible goes on to record in the third chapter of Genesis our first parents’ transgression that resulted in their fall from innocence into sin. This fallen nature was inherited by Adam and Eve’s offspring. That inherited nature rears its ugly head in the very next chapter, when their oldest son Cain does to his brother Abel, what Holmes did in that theater. Within the first four chapters of Genesis the stage is set for the drama of human history that follows.
The simple truth is each of us bears the image of our Creator, an image marred, and distorted by our inherited, fallen nature. Life is a constant battle between the nature given us by our Creator and the nature inherited from our first parents. Each of us possesses the capacity for good and evil. The only hope for victory, the only remedy for our plight, if we want to overcome our inherited nature and have our created nature restored, is to flee to Christ.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB).”