In the wake of the horrific shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, we have all shared a sense of shock, horror, and grief. The sadness deepens when we realize that the grief we feel cannot compare to the heart-rending grief that is being experienced by the parents, siblings, and spouses of the victims. We are helpless in understanding that there are no words that can dispel their sorrow, bring relief from the devastating pain, or even give hope for a better tomorrow. The emotions are just too strong for words. I believe their only comfort for many, many days to come will be in the form of love that is bigger than words, and from the presence of God. Because of this, the best possible action we can take at this present time is to pray. We pray not only for the family of the victims, but also for those in the community that are seeking to provide comfort, relief, and support. May they be the arms of God to these heartbroken families.
In the face of such strong emotions, logic provides little help. We want to understand why such a horrible thing can happen, but I’m not sure an understanding is even possible. Even if there are some elements of tragedy that we can explain, that doesn’t necessarily mean we can understand them. Grief is more powerful than reasoning, but fortunately, so is hope.
Knowing that there are no truly simple answers – and that this is not the best forum to address such issues – I want to briefly share how faith can still be found in the midst of tragedy.
“How could God allow this to happen?” is the common question that many of us encounter. It seems easy to blame God in His perceived silence, but it is not right to blame God for the actions of someone else. It was an evil act, committed by a human being. Why didn’t God stop this killer? I certainly wish He had. But I also know that there are countless acts of evil that humans commit every day, and God doesn’t stop them either. Although the scale is obviously different, God doesn’t stop every drunk driver or every abusive parent. He doesn’t make us always do the right thing any more than He makes stop doing the wrong thing. He has given us freedom to think, act, speak, and choose. Although He gives us guidance and counsel, the ultimate responsibility for what we do with our freedom lies with us. Freedom comes with consequences, and also with a high price tag. God calls us to cooperate with Him in resisting evil and in choosing God. Every time we pray we are asking Him – giving Him permission, even – to “interfere” with our lives. Although He calls us to cooperate with Him, He does not live our lives for us. It is we who must answer to Him for our actions.
I believe that God has given us purpose. In part, it is having a sense of purpose, meaning, and value in life that makes such tragedies so awful. They defy the plan, they resist the meaning, and they reject the purpose. It is not the way it is supposed to be. And although I believe there is a “reason for everything,” I don’t believe that means God intentionally causes evil for “a reason.” He fights evil, and calls us to do the same. When we live our lives in the pursuit of good, we are cooperating with God in His sense of order and purpose. When we choose to love and to seek the highest possible good, we are claiming our God-given purpose. God’s purpose and reason may not always be visible in an unreasonable world that has rejected His purpose. But it can be visible in us. We defy evil by choosing the good, and the more we choose the good, the more rarely we will find awful acts of evil. Hopefully – prayerfully – evil will always be a shocking abnormality to us, and the good and the beautiful will be the standard we all live by.
In prayer, Joe Payne