Medieval vision of Hell

International | Dunblane murders remind the world of man's wickedness

Issue: "A reason to live," March 23, 1996

Allen MacLeod, 36, stood in the cold outside Dunblane's Gothic 13th-century cathedral viewing the queue stretching up High Street and to the main road beyond-5,000 people or more, waiting to enter Dunblane's cathedral seeking solace and a touch from God after evil clawed its way into their lives last Wednesday. Mr. MacLeod, who pastors the Dunblane Free Church of Scotland, said someone asked him if his own faith in God "had been dented in any way" because of the mass murder of 16 local children in their school's gymnasium. "My reply was, 'No, but rather what it has done is confirm the words that the Lord spoke through Jeremiah, when he said through the prophet in Jeremiah 17 that the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful, and who can know it?'"

Perhaps the one thing that 43-year-old loner Thomas Hamilton's grotesque act in Dunblane last week accomplished was to dramatize for a watching world the very fact that Mr. MacLeod noted: that man's heart is ultimately ugly and given to horrible acts of violence against others, and against God.

In a way, the very genteel town of Dunblane, population 9,000, has become a metaphor for modern man's condition: Despite the tiny town's virtuous appearance, despite its church roots, despite the rural, peaceful attraction it holds for visiting big-city dwellers, and even despite its compliance with British gun laws-despite all this, sin still lurked within and around this Scottish ecclesiastical center. And it was such evil that killed 16 kindergartners and wounded 12, along with their teacher.

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"A medieval vision of hell," one paramedic said of the bloody body parts splattered all over the gym when he arrived there.

"Evil visited us yesterday," said Dunblane primary school headmaster Ron Taylor, "and we don't know why."

When British Prime Minister John Major received word of the mass murder, he suspended talks at the international terrorism summit in Egypt to announce the tragedy. Visibly shaken, he told the world's leaders, all joined in a single room to seek a solution to humanity's horrible tendency to terrorize its own: "This is a sickening and evil act that almost passes belief," he said. "This is a mad and evil act."

Evil has been the operative word.

Mr. MacLeod in his Sunday service four days after the killings preached about evil and noted the only cure. His congregation of about 70 Reformed Scottish believers sat just minutes away from a well-known monument to medieval Scottish hero William Wallace, and not far from a river memorialized by Sir Walter Scott.

"We went yesterday to the cross at Golgotha," Mr. MacLeod told WORLD on the Monday morning following the shootings, as he prepared to attend a gruesome round of children's funerals. "And we considered the cry of the Lord, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' We considered the cry that Jesus uttered from the cross-Why?"

Why did Thomas Hamilton snap? Why did he let loose his fury on children running and jumping at play? Why didn't God prevent this terrible deed in a town that Victorian social theorist John Ruskin described as "perfect in its simplicity"?

"Why?"-pure and plain-is a good question to ask after such a horrible deed. That question leads to an answer: There is sin in the world and only one act of God can redeem every man's wickedness. With Easter coming soon, some who witnessed or heard about the Dunblane horror will look to the cross-and to the resurrection.


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