June 17, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, June 17, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Two-year-old boy killed by alligator at Disney World rends the American heart
There has been no shortage of shocking and horrible headlines out of Orlando, Florida in recent days, but the headline that announced the death of a two-year-old boy attacked and drowned by an alligator has particularly caught the nation’s attention, and specifically when it comes to parents; and not only that, it has caught the imagination of many children who, seeing and hearing the headline, begin to wonder just what this world is all about and just how many dangers may be hidden within it. The headline story in the New York Times was well reported by Nick Madigan and Christine Hauser, they wrote,
“Lane Graves was doing what any 2-year-old boy would be doing on a hot Florida evening — splashing around in the shallow waters of a lagoon. His parents and sister, Nebraskans all, were nearby on the beach at a Disney resort here, relaxing, carefree.Show Full Transcript
“Suddenly, an alligator sprang from the water and clamped its jaws around the boy. Lane’s father, Matt Graves, bounded into the lagoon to wrestle his son from the animal’s steel-trap grasp, but lost the battle, according to an account by the Orange County sheriff, Jerry L. Demings.”
And then we read these distressing words,
“The alligator made off with the boy, and an intense search for him yielded nothing in the wide, murky expanse of water until more than 16 hours later, early on Wednesday afternoon, when divers found him about six feet below the surface and only 10 to 15 feet from where he had last been seen.”
Now the first thing we note in terms of the headline coverage of this issue is just how heartbreaking the story is and how this news comes as a devastating reminder to us of the dangerous world that we do live in, a dangerous world that is inhabited in several regions of the world by animals that will not only kill you, but will do so with the intention of eating you. The heart of the nation went out immediately to this family from Nebraska, the parents who have lost a precious, beautiful two-year-old boy, taken in a way that was certainly most unexpected and, furthermore, almost unimaginable—a little boy taken by an alligator within what had been presumed to be the safety and security of a resort. It would be almost impossible to imagine the absolutely infinite heartbreak that would be experienced by these parents in terms of the death of their child and the death by such an unexpected means.
One of the things that is an irony here is the fact that if anything represents the modern age and humanity’s conquest over nature, it would be those massive theme parks and developments, including the Disney resort where the boy himself was taken. That very resort indicates what has happened when humanity can drain swamps and build massive complexes, can harness the power of energy and transform the landscape into something that it never was before. And yet the irony is found in the fact that even as there may be the appearance that we have somehow conquered nature, the reality is that is a very incomplete project. And when it comes to the inhabitants of this lagoon, it turns out humanity had not conquered them at all.
It is estimated in Florida that there are something between 1 million and 1.3 million alligators. Decades ago, it was determined that the alligator was an endangered species and thus it became illegal to kill it. Although, since the massive population of alligators has exploded in Florida and elsewhere since, there has been a lessening of that principle and there have been legal kills of alligators. And yet still the alligator population continues to grow, even as the population of Florida has grown to the extent that the Sunshine State, as it has been known, is now the third largest state by population in the United States of America. What had been largely a system of swamps and canals is now a landscape dotted by condominiums and suburbs. Keep that in mind when you remember the fact that there may well be now more alligators alive than at any point in recent Florida history, including the expansive construction boom of the 1960s and 70s and beyond.
The New York Times story included this detail”
“The recovery ended a search that began shortly after 9 p.m. on Tuesday in the lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. The artificial lake, which covers about 200 acres”—that’s massive for an artificial body of water by the way—“is 14 feet deep in parts and feeds a series of canals that wind through the Disney complex. It lies across from the Magic Kingdom theme park.”
Then we read,
“Alligators are a common sight in Florida ponds, lakes, lagoons and canals. The sheriff said five alligators were taken from the lagoon after the boy went under. They have been euthanized to determine if any of them killed the boy.”
But the fact is that the population of alligators even in that one man-made lagoon is probably vastly larger than anything that human beings will be able to determine. One of the reasons is the fact that even as this news article in the New York Times made clear, the lake is connected to other bodies of water by canals. An old Florida adage is that canals are to alligators what interstate highways are to automobiles. As a native Floridian who grew up around alligators and learned to respect them at a very young age, one of the most interesting comments I saw in the media was in the news coverage of this tragedy that was published by the Associated Press in which a woman was quoted as saying,
“My question is why are there alligators in there?”
But the answer obvious to any Florida native is that wherever you find a body of water large enough for even a small alligator, you can count on the fact that there is probably one there or has been one there recently or will soon be an alligator in that body of water. To put it another way, the biblical worldview reminds us that the alligators too were made by the Creator and that they belong there, they are a part of the nature that we so often allow ourselves the conceit of believing that we have under our total control.
But there are a few other issues the Christian ought to keep in mind as we try to think through all things in terms of the Christian biblical worldview. Not only does that biblical worldview ground us in creation and the knowledge that God created all these creatures to his glory—we think here not only the book of Genesis, but also other references in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, to the diversity of the creatures God has made, even to the final chapters of the book of Job where the Lord himself addressed Job with the reminder that he had created all of these creatures and that he did so to his glory—but the Christian biblical worldview also reminds us that the world and all the creatures within it are affected by sin. And so the evidence of that sin and the biblical worldview would underline the fact that one of the chief evidences of that sin is a form of predation and the threat that these animals now pose, or certainly can pose, to human beings—the species, the only species, made in the image of God.
In that light, a fairly shocking article appeared in the Washington Post in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy; Karin Brulliard writing for the Post writes an article entitled,
“When animals prey on children: The rare times the worst has happened.”
The article tells us that,
“The death of a toddler, whose body was found underwater Wednesday after being dragged by an alligator into a Disney lagoon, would certainly qualify as a worst-nightmare scenario for any parent. Small children are delicate and small and clumsy, and alligators can have seven dozen teeth, be terrifyingly enormous and move quickly.”
But then these words,
“But it’s important to remember that the chances of such a horrific death are extremely low.”
Well, on the one hand, of course those chances are very low, because for most Americans the chances of being a two-year-old in that kind of water in that region of the state of Florida at the time of dusk when alligators are likely to be most active eating is a fairly small population, and for that we should be extremely thankful. But to state the obvious, the chances of such an attack go up astronomically if you do allow yourself or allow someone else to be in an area where that kind of opportunistic attack in predation can take place. The clear purpose of this article in the Washington Post is to offer a kind of reassurance, including a statistical reassurance, to America’s parents that the likelihood of one of our own children being taken, attacked, and eaten by a wild creature is very, very low.
Those familiar with this kind of article would be unsurprised to have the reporter tell us,
“In the United States, bees and other insects kill far more people than alligators. So do cows.”
But what those sentences miss is the fact that the moral equation here and that which has our imagination so very, very centered here and our heartbreak for this family, is that this wasn’t some kind of death by a bee sting, this was a death by a predator. That’s a very different moral matter. And then, as if to make the point, the Washington Post article details the creatures that are most likely to prey on human beings, listing them in no particular order: first, in terms of alligators, reminding us that even though the fatal attacks on human beings have been relatively few throughout the history of our engagement with that reptile in the state of Florida,
“In 1997, a boy, 3, was snatched by an alligator, and the animal was still holding his body when a trapper located it 20 hours later.”
Other animals detailed in the Washington Post article as threats to human beings by predation include bears, specifically grizzly bears in North America; tigers, where we are told that the tigers most infamous for eating humans are in regions of India and Bangladesh; lions, “there is perhaps no animal more commonly labeled “man-eater” than the lion;” then crocodiles, not the same as alligators, where we are reminded that a seven-year-old boy was recently playing with a balloon near a river in a state in Mexico when a crocodile leapt up and dragged him into the water. According to the Post, local authorities said he was the eighth person killed by crocodiles in that area in just two years.
Keep in mind as well that there are many sea creatures who could be added to the list, in particular, sharks. But then this article takes an unusual turn by listing as the final animal that poses a threat of predation to human beings: pigs.
“These animals aren’t usually considered predators. But they’re open-minded about their food, and in rare cases, it’s included children, according to news reports.”
The news report cited when it comes to the pig attack was from India. But that fact underlines something Christian should keep in mind, and that is the contrast between the relative safety of the United States when it comes to the danger of predation when compared to a far higher rate of danger in other regions of the world. The fact that tigers and lions and others are cited in this article should affirm that fact very clearly. The Christian biblical worldview explains why nature can be so dangerous and ties it to the larger narrative of Scripture in terms of Creation and Fall and Redemption and Consummation. We are told in Scripture why nature is so often red in tooth and claw, and we also are indebted to Scripture for explaining why there is an enmity between human beings and animals that sometimes breaks forth in such violence.
Furthermore, we need to be reminded of the fact that previous generations of human beings have come to terms with this kind of threat and have often used stories as a way of reminding children of just how dangerous nature can be. It was Bruno Bettelheim back in the middle decades of the 20th century who reminded us that fairy tales themselves were means whereby parents reminded their children and taught their children to respect nature and the dangers that are often found there. Just think of the fairytale of “Little Red Riding Hood” and that very dangerous wolf. That was a story that was at least in part intended to remind children who were living in European villages surrounded by dense forests that did include wolves the danger of wandering off without an adult.
But then all of this also points in this horrifying headline back to another irony and that is that it has been Disney that has been perhaps more effective than any other corporation or creative entity in the history of the world in taming nature through its cartoons and its movies that have taken even the most dangerous animals and given them benign and attractive personalities. But the alligator that grabbed that two-year-old boy at the Disney resort was not a cartoon character, nor can it be reduced to such.
While our hearts go out to this family in its grief, we also come to understand that this affirms and underlines how the biblical story puts all this into context, reminding us that in this era so affected by human sin we see a world in which there are so many dangers, toils, and snares, including dangerous animals and, yes, including attacking alligators. But we also note that it will not be that way in Christ’s kingdom when it comes in fullness, and that is why a biblical theology takes us from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation and New Creation.
When in Romans chapter 8 we are told that the entire creation is groaning under sin, awaiting the appearing of the sons of God, we have to understand that that and that alone places this very sad headline story from Orlando in perspective. But then we also have to press this back in the larger context and understand that this has to be placed within a comparison to that other shocking and horrifying headline out of Orlando, and that was the shooting that took place in that nightclub when 49 were killed and at least 53 injured by a fellow human being who entered that gay nightclub with a murderous intent.
In the case of Omar Mateen, we are talking about a murderous human being. We’re talking about someone rightly identified as a terrorist and as a murderer. When it comes to that alligator in the lagoon, whichever alligator it was, we would not properly call that alligator a murderer. The reason for this is that we have very different moral expectations of an alligator and a human being. And we have to understand, once again, that it is the biblical worldview that gives us the foundation for understanding why that is proper and right and absolutely necessary. It is the human being who is created by the same Creator who made the alligator, but the Lord made human beings in his image and gave to human beings not only a moral capacity and a moral knowledge, but also gave to human beings a moral restraint that is not present in the animal kingdom. And so in a way, that simply must not be missed from Orlando. We have evidence in one single and absolutely heartbreaking week of both forms of evil that are addressed so clearly in Scripture—natural evil in the form of this alligator attack and moral evil in the part of this hate crime and terror attack that took place in Orlando, Florida. There’s a categorical distinction between natural evil—that would also include earthquakes and tsunamis and cancer and any number of other ills—and moral evil, which is described and must always be described in terms of human intentionality and human moral responsibility.
Finally, Christians have to understand that when it comes to the reality of both natural and moral evil, we are not sufficient for this, and no human power will ever be able to overcome it. That is why the Bible would remind us that in facing all kinds of evil, both forms of evil in terms of natural and moral evil, this is why the Scripture tells us that we are yearning for Christ, and yearning for his kingdom and that is why we are taught to pray, even so Lord, come quickly.
The CIA and French authorities warn of long-term terror threat ISIS poses to the world
But next, when it comes to the face of moral evil, it has become increasingly and chillingly clear that one of the chief faces of moral evil in our time is that of terrorism and, in particular, the jihad and the terrorism that has come with it from so many in the Muslim world. The specific face of that threat has often now been identified as ISIL or the Islamic State. And in the last couple of days on both sides of the Atlantic there have been some amazingly candid and honest assessments of just where we stand in terms of that moral threat. For example, CNN reported yesterday that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, testified to Congress, saying,
“Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach”
The headline of the CNN story was this:
“CIA director grave warning: ISIS dangerous as ever.”
In the article we also read where the Director of the CIA said,
“We judge that ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks. ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West. And the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the West, including refugee flows, smuggling routes, and legitimate methods of travel.”
The CIA Director also made clear the challenge faced by law enforcement and intelligence communities when it comes to the so-called lone wolf assassins and terrorists who have been inspired, but are not necessarily under the direct control of groups such as ISIL. But as I said, these honest assessments are now coming on both sides of the Atlantic. In France, the Associated Press reports that both the nation’s President and Prime Minister warned on Wednesday that the world faces a very long war to defeat terrorism. That sober assessment coming simultaneously from the nation’s President and Prime Minister should have our attention. The Prime Minister Manuel Valls said,
“I said we were at war, that this war will take a generation, that it will be long. Other innocent people will die. It is very hard to say. People can accuse me — and I completely understand — of making the society even more fearful than it already is today with these events. But unfortunately, this is the reality. It will take a generation.”
While so many American political leaders seem to be telling the nation that we are too concerned about terrorism, both the Prime Minister and the President of France, speaking to that nation of citizens, seem to be saying, “You’re not yet taking it seriously enough.”
As we honor fathers Sunday, we need also reflect on the secular subversion of fatherhood
Finally, Sunday is Father’s Day in the United States. Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, goes back to the first decade of the 20th century and ever since then it’s been part of the American calendar, part of the American culture, and also very much a part of American sentimentality. In that light, however, Father’s Day has never come close to Mother’s Day in terms of popularity.
But Father’s Day affords Christians in particular the opportunity to reflect upon the fact that the subversion of fatherhood in our time has come with grave dangers and very bad effects upon American society at large, in particular, upon the young and specifically among young boys and young men.
The reality is that the absence of a father comes with very damaging effects to both boys and girls, and that those effects continue into young manhood and young womanhood. But we also know that the effects are particularly acute when it comes to boys and to young men. The absence of a father, it turns out, is correlated with all kinds of things that are absolutely in the headlines these days—everything from high rates of crime and low rates of high school graduation, not to mention college, to other kinds of effects that are particularly tied to income inequality and to poverty. It turns out that one of the greatest answers to income inequality and poverty is actually having a father in the home and, in particular, having the father and the mother married to one another.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that the secular authorities around us understand that the absence of fathers is a very large problem. Recent books even written by those on the cultural left indicate an acknowledgment of the fact that the father crisis is a national crisis, and there is also now abundant, undeniable evidence that the absence of fathers and the subversion of fatherhood has been an absolute disaster for this country. This is where Christians have to both agree and go beyond where the secular authorities now direct their attention. Yes, it is absolutely true that any sociological, political, or economic analysis will point to the importance of fathers and to the fact that the absence of the father is a huge problem, both personally and culturally.
But it is also true that it’s not just a sociological problem, and the most important evidence for Christians is not sociological data. The most important evidence for Christians is the biblical teaching that makes very clear God’s purpose in creating the family and at the very heart of the family creating marriage. This is why the Lord said in the very second chapter of Scripture that it is for this reason that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they should become one flesh. To the husband and the wife given the gift of children, there is then the reality of the family, and that family reflects the glory of God and the goodness of God’s structures of creation. Tampering with that structure, redefining that structure, subverting that structure is a recipe for disaster, individually and for the culture at large. Any society that fails to honor fatherhood sows the seeds of its own destruction. So in that light, Happy Father’s Day.