Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where Was God Last Friday in Newtown?

An acquaintance from another part of the country wrote the other day to ask what she could tell her friends who wonder about where God was when the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut unfolded last Friday.

Here's a response I shared with her. It was written "on the fly." If you find it helpful, that's great. If its rambling nature puts you off, I apologize. Like all of us, I am still reeling from this horrible tragedy and continue to pray that God will comfort and help the survivors and all who grieve.
Dear _____,
Your question and others associated with the Connecticut tragedies have been coming up in my interactions with people ever since Friday, as you can imagine. I don't have any easy "answers," but a few thoughts.

This tragedy has particularly struck us all because twenty of those who died were children. In a sense they, along with everyone who was at the Sandy Hook school last Friday and will be haunted by these events for the rest of their lives, were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. In this, they don't differ from the hapless victims of the Holocaust, of the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the killer tsunamis of a few years ago.

It's heartbreaking!

When considered in this way though, I'm bound to conclude that in this fallen and imperfect world, unspeakable things can sometimes happen. In Romans, Paul talks about how, though through Christ, we have a certain hope that "creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay an will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God," right now all of creation and we ourselves groan, like women in labor, for that moment when Jesus returns and all who have trusted in Him will live in a new world, where suffering and tragedy are no more. (Romans 8:18-25)

Paul, a man well-acquainted with suffering and grief, starts out these thoughts by saying, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). With these words, He encourages us to know that until we rise again with Him in eternity, we live in a place in which we are all subject to the possibility of such tragedies.

But we also have promises:
  • Jesus says, "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20). 
  • Romans 8:31-39 contains the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. 
  • Hebrews 13:5 quotes the Lord as saying, "I will never leave you or forsake you." 
  • And in John 14:8ff, Jesus told the disciples apprehensive about talk of Jesus' "departure," "I will not leave you orphaned." 
  • He then goes on to promise that He will send His Holy Spirit to all who call on Him.
For me, the question of where God was last Friday when this tragedy occurred is wrapped up in the story of Christmas. The prologue to John's gospel (John 1:1-18) talks about the God of all creation Who entered into our lives, then suffered what we suffer so that, through His death and resurrection, He could buy us out of our slavery to suffering and death and decay and sin for new and everlasting life with God. All who are "in Christ" are part of His new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), but truly we only see it in this world through a mirror dimly right now (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Because of God's compassion for those who don't yet know Christ, God allows this imperfect world to continue to creak along. (2 Peter 3:9-10) This should incite us Christians to be about the business of sharing Christ and His love with everyone we know!

The Old and New Testament refer to Jesus as, "Immanuel," "God with us." Evil happens in this world. Innocent children suffer. (I think of how Herod killed all the babies two years of age and younger after Jesus' birth.) But God is with the suffering in their suffering, I believe. The Lord Who wanted the children brought to Him and Who said that we adults needed to have the credulous trust of children, I believe is most especially with children, who aren't yet cynical enough to disbelieve, when they suffer. I have been with too many suffering children and watched how they have latched onto Christ and inspired others by their faith to believe otherwise.

The Bible also often described God as bearing "compassion" for people. This is a compound word meaning "to suffer with." God, I believe, suffers with us and that our suffering too is part of what He bore on the cross, its power to deny us life with God destroyed forever by His suffering and death. Hebrews 4:15 specifically refers to Jesus' ability to be compassionate toward us in our sins, but I think the passage also contains the promise of His "understanding" and presence with us when we suffer. It says: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin."

I guess what I'm struggling to say in all of this, is that there are no facile explanations of why God didn't miraculously intervene in the attack of last Friday morning. But I believe we aren't promised that this imperfect, sinful world is going to be easy: the innocent will suffer, marred minds will carry out evil deeds. These things have been ongoing realities in human history since Adam and Eve fell into sin and brought this alienation from God and neighbor into the human gene pool.

But I also believe that God is with those who suffer and grieve, giving them a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:4-7).

And I also believe in the resurrection of the dead, that all who have trusted in Christ will be saved from sin and death and futility and live in the peaceable kingdom with God for which we were made.

In Matthew 24:12-13, Jesus says: "And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures [believing in Christ] to the end will be saved." Though the world is filled with mysteries beyond explanation, this is true: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will rise again. And Christ is with us.

I hope that these rambling words help in some way. God bless!

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