As we all know, on Friday morning December 14, 2012 there was a horrific and tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and 6 adults dead. There is no need for me to go into the details as I’m sure everyone has read, watched, and seen plenty of news of the day by day drama that has unfolded since then. This shooting is especially difficult and traumatic because the targets and victims were children; young, helpless, innocent elementary-aged children. Whatever the purpose or motives behind Adam Lanza’s actions, or whatever kind of social circumstances or mental conditions drove him to do what he did, we may never know.
This tragedy has left a nation mourning, and rightly so. It breaks our hearts to see anyone – especially children – emotionlessly and methodically shot down in their youth while attempting to gain an education like the rest of us did. It especially touches the millions of parents in America who have children of their own. What if that had been my child? we ask with incredulity. How does a parent recover from such a mind-numbing, stunning, and heart-wrenching loss? Is full recovery even possible? These beloved children are now gone forever, and while new children may be born or adopted, these twenty precious youngsters will never be replaced. It is an irreparable loss which, for many, leaves a gaping, hurting wound that will not easily – or ever – heal.
Faced with such tragedy and unspeakable pain, how are we to respond? Surely we’d prefer that this never happen; or if it must, it should happen to someone around the world in a far off land so that we can look the other way and carry on with our lives. But how do we respond when a calamity like this occurs in our backyard? If this can happen in a small, bedroom community in Connecticut, surely it could happen in any neighborhood or school elsewhere in America. It could happen in your or my neighborhood. Not only do we face the pain and loss from this shooting, but we must confront the reality of such things; that some people are murderous and are willing to take their own and the lives of others; and that despite our best security efforts up to this point, we have failed to prevent every shooting from happening.
The pain, the personal devastation, and the questions about what could cause anyone to ever even entertain doing such a thing cause us to ask one simple, but overwhelmingly complex, question:
Why did this happen? Why were some parents bereaved of their children while others spared? Why did Lanza commit such a heinous crime? What ever drove him to do such a repulsive thing? Why did his mother have assault weapons in her possession? How did he get ahold of them and how did he know what he was doing? Why did the school’s new security measures not work? Why did the police and first responders not get there sooner? Could more children’s lives been saved? What could we have done to prevent this? These and similar questions bombard us, haunt us, and leave us feeling confused and helpless.
For those of us who are Christians and who believe in a sovereign, ever-loving, heavenly Father, we ask even more difficult questions. Here we come face to face with the most unspeakable and odious evil imaginable; we stare into Evil’s eyes and we palpably feel its presence and deathly grip. God, where are you? Do you not seen what is happening here? Did you not know that Lanza would snap and do such a thing? Why didn’t you stop him? How could you possibly let innocent little children die? You are sovereign and all-powerful, why did you not intervene sooner? How could you possibly stand by and do nothing? Do you not love us?
It is okay to question, okay to wrestle with God, okay even to doubt. At the least we must face our doubts because surely we all have them lurking within us somewhere. Does God love us as a people, as a nation, to allow this to happen? Did God even allow this to take place or was he somehow complicit as the Ultimate Agent? If complicit, then surely God is evil; but even if he allowed it to transpire in full knowledge, is this not also evil? Is this somehow punishment or judgment for our own wickedness? Surely that is a horrid thought that can’t be true! How do we reconcile evil like this with a loving and good God? Must we just rely on the oft-quoted quip that God has a greater-good in store? Does that really comfort us in our pain and sorrow? I will dare to speak what most of you are probably thinking: no, believing that somehow God will turn evil into good and bring ultimate healing and restoration does not comfort us all that much in the moment. We don’t want God to do a greater good, we just want him to undo what has already been done.
As Christians, I believe that we must personally wrestle with these questions and doubts and search hard for answers: through prayer, Scripture, personal experience, reading, and the testimony of others past and present. We must, in a sense, put God and our beliefs to the test, so see whether they can stand the assault of human evil and natural disasters that threaten to undo us. If we do not have answers, or if we fail to ask the right questions, how shall we witness to a needy and hurting world that is surely asking the same? If our God is not big enough or great enough to handle our pain and the evil that seems ever-present in this groaning world, who can? Where shall we turn? What shall we turn to?
There is no magic pill out there, and if you are waiting for the perfect and complete answer in this post, you will be disappointed. I have no easy fix, no ready remedy, no soothing aloe to make the pain vanish and the questions disappear. I myself have often faced evil in my own life in the things that have happened to me, and in the process have asked many of the same questions above as I’ve wrestled with God as to his allowance and purpose for the existence of pain and suffering, trial and tribulations, evil and wickedness in this world. I have no easy answers, and I am all too aware of the exhausting struggle involved.
In future reflections, I hope to uncover some of what the Bible has to say about the existence of evil and God’s sovereignty in it all. In addition, I will examine what our response to such evil should be as a nation at the governmental and community levels.