Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil

When Monsters Murder Children,
the New Age has No Answers Worth Hearing
by Michael Spencer

I watched about an hour of the funeral
of little Samantha Runnion, the angelic almost-six-year-old who was murdered
last week in California. For those of us with children and who work with
children, this sort of thing is mentally intolerable. The thoughts that
{alleged} monster like Alenjandro Avila could walk right into a neighborhood,
take this child, rape and murder her for his own sexual satisfaction make
your mind recoil in disgust and helplessness. The knowledge that our adversarial
judicial system failed to convict him of a previous incident, apparently
because the defense effectively undermined the testimonies of the two victims,
makes the murder even more senseless and heinous. Looking at that little
casket, seeing the pictures and hearing the grieving mother–it was nightmarish.

I’ve done some difficult funerals, and I know what an overwhelming thing
it is to stand up as the representative of God and say something that
doesn’t sound ridiculous or even offensive. I remember a funeral in
a small town where I lived that involved the drowning deaths of two
small children. The community was in shock, and the minister stood up
and said God needed two little angels so he picked these two. If you
could have sued preachers for malpractice, this guy would have been

So I don’t want to minimize the difficulty of putting together a service
under this horrendous circumstance, or the difficulty of being the minister
in that funeral. Don’t take anything I am going to say as a criticism
of this family that has lost something that would push me to the point
of insanity. Their choice of what they wanted the world to hear was
entirely their own, and it was their way of honoring the life of their
daughter and giving the world a glimpse of their loss. The ministers
did what I would have done: the best they could in drawing some sanity
from their own faith traditions.

The service was held at the the Crystal Cathedral, and the primary speaker
was a woman who was minister at the Church of Religious Science. I listened
to almost her entire talk. Later, I looked up the Church of Religious
Science on the net, and discovered that its history and beliefs place
it in what orthodox Christians call the “mind cults.” These
are groups that came into existence around the turn of the last century,
and have in common a kind of unitarian, new age approach to spirituality
and a strong belief that the mental and the spiritual are one and the
same. Highly individualistic and totally devoid of orthodox Christian
truth, these groups are very appealing to those who want progressive,
undogmatic spiritualities that tell the individual that his own thoughts,
feelings and experiences are God, and that positive thinking can control
life’s circumstances.

Often such groups as the CRS clothe themselves in some Christian trappings,
at least enough to be recognized as a church. CRS uses many Christian
terms and ideas, but much like Unity or your average Oprah show, the
content is purely Eastern and New Age. As a student of comparative religion,
this is most interesting to me because the New Age worldview represented
by CRS has a thoroughly Eastern view of evil; an answer that, in my
opinion, is wholly inadequate to realities like the kidnapping, rape
and asphyxiation of a five-year-old child.

The minister speaking at the funeral of Samantha Runnion talked a lot
about children and how wonderful they are. She talked about the love
we have for children and the “light” they bring into the world.
She said that we do not understand why terrible things happen to children,
but that we can be assured that Samantha’s life had meaning because
she was loved, she gave love and continued to give love in bringing
millions of people together to think about loving and caring for their
own children. She said the world was a better place because of Samantha,
and that we were all better because she lived. She frequently said that
Samantha was safe in “the arms of love.” In the time that
I listened, there was no reference to God at all. In fact, the name
of God was avoided, even in prayer. Lots of advice on how to think about
Samantha, and not think about what happened.

There are many things here that a Christian or any person would potentially
agree with, I am sure. But I was deeply struck by the absence of any
acknowledgement of the evil of what had happened. There was an awareness
that such events are painful, and that we wish they did not happen,
and that we do not understand them. But the Eastern/New Age spiritual
worldview could not say “This was evil. This was sinful. This was
an affront to a Holy God. The person who did this deserves justice and
hell.” There was a conscious avoidance of such categories.

This is not surprising if you know the Eastern belief system’s overall
approach to evil. In a worldview that says all is Karma, or that all
suffering is caused by desire or that our life’s destiny is determined
by the choices we make, the atrocity of Samantha Runnion’s murder is
an uncomfortable piece of reality that does not easily fit into their
view of truth. Did Samantha bring this on herself, as some New Agers
teach? Can we simply say Avila is a case of too much wrong desire? Will
Samantha be repaid for her suffering in her next life? Are all these
actions–the murder and the compassion–all just aspects of “God”
since God is the universe?

In his book, Long Journey Home, Os Guinness makes the excellent
point that a worldview’s response to the issue of genuine evil is a “gut”
issue, and it is a place where Christianity has a strong and satisfying
apologetic that must be contrasted with the competition. A Christian response
to the Samantha Runnion tragedy would be different than the pale, Hallmarkish
platitudes of the New Age.

The murder was evil. The Murderer is evil. His actions break the laws of
Almighty God and every one of us, no matter what our beliefs, has an internal
sense of the outrage against the law of God that has been perpetrated. This
isn’t part of God or his universe, this is an affront to God and a crime
in the universe.

Samantha was made in the image of God. She belonged to God and her murder–even
if it somehow fits into God’s sovereign plan to allow evil that grace might
triumph–is wrong in every possible way. While we rejoice in the good that
God can bring out of evil, we do not rush past evil to see good. We stop
and take a long, gut-wrenching look at the handiwork of evil. This is prima
facie evidence that human beings are in rebellion against God and that there
is a tremendous power of evil loose in the world.

We should be angry and shocked. While good may come of it and compassion
has come out of it, justice itself screams to be satisfied and God recognizes
this. While it is not our place to call a lynch mob, it is our place
to insist on justice–swift, certain and sure. To honor God and Samantha,
and to expose the evil of this action, justice must be done and it is
the job of the civil authorities to carry it out, and of all good people
to call for justice and approve of it.

The perpetrator should be executed, and we should be unhappy if he is not. We
hope he repents and accepts God’s forgiveness for his crime, but he
should still die as a measurement of the evil he perpetrated. This action
deserves hell as its sentence, and only if the infinite Son of God removes
that hell and places it on himself does the criminal have any hope.

In the aftermath, we should remember the life of this little girl, and
we should grieve, and we should love our children more and make our
communities safer, particularly by doing the right thing when we serve
on the jury trying a child sexual abuser. Whenever we think of Samantha,
we should rejoice that God invites little children to safely dwell in
his care. We should be continually outraged and moved by the evil that
we have seen, and we should be happy for those in heaven where there
are no tears, pains, or griefs.

To some extent, we are living in the twilight of the Christian centuries
in the west, but we are still a long way distant from the time the New
Age response to the death of Samantha Runnion satisfies the average
person. I am sure many people sitting in the Crystal Cathedral listening
to such a message as I heard were saying to themselves, “Is that
all?” I would have paid money to hear what Al Martin would have
said given 15 minutes of that service.

We know, or at least we know for the time being, that an ultimate sense
of good and evil is necessary for life to be coherent. We simply cannot
say that everything is good. Christians do not believe Romans 8:28 says
all things are good. We believe that God can take horrendous, horrid
evil, and weave it into a tapestry that is ultimately good and for His
praise. But we don’t look at the murder of a child and say “That’s
good.” Yet the New Age worldview, in its failure to talk about
the evil of evil, winds up speaking only of good, and that is not enough.

Not enough for the murderer’s evil act, and not enough for those
of us who must live with it.

Our Guest Writer, Michael Spencer ,
is the campus minister and High School Bible Instructor at a Christian Boarding
school in Eastern Kentucky, and I have been preaching the Gospel for thirty
years this year. My website,
, is basically my way of nailing a few essays on the door of the Internet.
We talk about them at The Boar’s Head Tavern,,
which is an “open” blog that I moderate.

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