School Shooting in Newtown: Where was God?
On December 14, 2012 a heavily armed, 20-year old entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and gunned down 20 children and 6 adults. The media firestorm that followed this horrific act was gigantic, and so has been the response through social media. People are trying to make sense of it all. The main question I wish to tackle is, “Where was God?” I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but my own Facebook news feed has been littered with attempts to answer this question. Opinions vary widely, but it is a legitimate question to ask. Where is God in all this? Why would he let this happen? Can’t he do something to stop it? Is he disinterested? Does he care? Is he too weak and feeble to do anything? This post is an attempt to answer some of these questions.
Let me first say that I don’t want to treat this event like it is some case study for theological minds to examine. I don’t want to be disrespectful or without compassion. What happened was real. Real families in a real community suffered unspeakable loss. Like many parents, my wife and I have appreciated the presence of our own children all the more over the past few days, and our conversation and prayers have turned to this matter a number of times. I feel deeply for every parent who is about to go through this Christmas season without a loved little one. I have lost a child myself, by a different means, but I think I can begin to understand the stabbing pain that those affected are feeling. I want to be clear that this is not just theory for some uninvolved bystander like myself to wrestle with. I am grateful for every church in Newtown that is attempting to respond to a broken town with the love and grace of God. Prayers are with those brothers and sisters.
But while this is hardly an event to be examined impersonally, we still must take time to think biblically and come to some conclusions. As Christians, it is our responsibility to address this issue with a theologically informed mind – that is to say, we need a suitable and truthful answer to the question, Where was God? Our beliefs about God and the Bible need to intersect with real life. After all, if the Bible has nothing to say about something like this, it is a book with major flaws. Our world is so full of evil and suffering that the Bible ought to address it. Thankfully, it does.
Right now there is a picture floating around on the internet with the following quote on it:
Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?
– Signed, a concerned student
Dear concerned student,
I’m not allowed in schools.
There’s been some debate whether this is true or not. As I see it, it is true in one sense and false in another. It is false in the sense that God is everywhere. No one dictates where God is or isn’t. Because schools have removed prayer, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments does not mean that God is removed as well. He is not subject to our silly laws. We do not govern him. When God says he is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12), it means he is everywhere.
Yet there is a hint of truth here too. The basic idea behind this quote is that God will honour a person’s own wishes. If a society wishes to ignore God, then he leaves them alone. If a person rejects God, he lets them go on their way. Is this idea Biblical? In Romans 1:18-32, it is shown that for those who reject God and instead become idolators (ie. all of us), God “gave them up” to do whatever they want, a list that includes murder (vs. 29). The real problem then is not that our school system has rejected God but that the entire human race has.
This fundamental truth of Christianity is founded all the way back in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God and brought upon themselves, and every human being, the consequences of their sin. Because of their sin, and our own, we make ourselves enemies of God. So where is God in the midst of our fallen, evil, corrupt world? The answer is that, though he has been rejected by his own creation, God remains present for the purpose of compelling his children to return to him. This is made possible because the penalty of sin has been removed by the death of Jesus, whose life was taken in our own place. The amazing reality is that the God who has been rejected by his own people is the very God who is willing to forgive and remove any obstruction to a renewed relationship with him.
There is still more to be said. It was not just Adam and Eve who rejected God. Recall that they were tempted towards sin by the serpent, the Devil himself. Adam and Eve were not forced to sin, therefore they (and we) remain guilty and accountable for our own sin. No one can blame God for evil; it is our own fault by choosing sin and death. Yet Satan has a part to play in this as well. The devil is a liar and the first murderer, and his appetite for death and carnage is active and unquenchable. While Satan seeks death, it is God who gives life and who gave his own life that others may live (John 10:10). Therefore Satan, along with the willing compliance of human beings, is the cause for suffering and evil in the world. Our hope is knowing that God is countering this attack with love and forgiveness and life.
One wonderful truth to cling to is that each child that was mercilessly slain had the inexpressible joy of entering into the very presence of Jesus that day. The Bible confirms that God loves children, and that his kingdom belongs to them (Matthew 19:14). They are safe with Jesus forever! No more fear or pain or suffering awaits them; only eternal happiness with the God who created them. What a comfort!
There is also a sense in which the element of faith is necessary. While the Bible can give us some guidance during times like these, we are never fully able to understand exactly why things like this happen. One thing we know about God is that he is always working things out for good. Just like in Genesis 50:20 where God takes the evil actions of others and uses it for the saving of many lives, God is at work as well in this tragedy for the saving of souls. The eye of faith looks beyond the visible suffering and sees the invisible hand of God, moving behind the scenes to extend his love and grace to more and more people. God’s plan is never thwarted, nor is he overcome by the evil of Satan or mankind. God is strong and wise; his ways are higher than ours. We can trust that just as God used the suffering of his own Son to accomplish good, so too he is doing the same here. We simply need to trust him in what we cannot ourselves understand.
While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I do believe that Scripture gives us some understanding to make sense of what is going on in the midst of heartache. We can slowly begin to see God’s love in action as those who are hurting are comforted. Clinging to the promises of God, we can know that in time his peace will fill our hearts. We can celebrate with joy knowing that each precious child is in paradise with Jesus forever. We can know for certain that evil does not have the upper hand. Satan is a defeated foe. His power has limits. King Jesus is in control, and while we may not grasp why certain things may happen, we can know for sure that God is in the business of making all things new, and that eventually, for all those who have faith in Jesus, the world will once again be the way it was always intended to be.