Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
I’ve had this idea for an article rattling around in my head for awhile. Unfortunately, with last Sunday morning’s church massacre, now seems the appropriate time to write it. Anytime there’s a tragedy it’s only natural to ask “why?” particularly if the victim is somebody who is innocent. The 17 month old child who was tragically killed Sunday morning was definitely innocent he had certainly never harmed Devin Patrick Kelley. Neither did any of the other 25 people he murdered or the 20 people he injured. Why did Kelley walk into the house of the Lord on November 5th and shoot 56 people? How could a merciful God allow such violence to happen to the very people who were in church worshiping Him?
It’s human nature to seek answers to problems, our brains are hardwired for it. In fact, finding solutions to problems is linked to our brain’s pleasure center, causing us to feel excited and happy when we finally achieve that “eureka!” moment. There should never be any shame in asking questions about the ways of God, or anything else. He wants us to learn and to fathom that which we’re capable of understanding. Regrettably, we often never find the answers we search so diligently for, especially in cases of human cruelty. Oftentimes there is no clear motive for the most egregious of crimes. Even the criminals themselves can’t always explain why they snap and commit the crimes that they do. Kelley himself left behind no motive; leaving police to scramble to piece together clues, and survivors to look for answers that may never be found.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God
— 2 Corinthians 1:3
The question of violence
Devin Kelley was an extremely violent man. He beat, kicked, and strangled his ex-wife. In fits of anger, he often pushed or shoved her young son, and at least once, he violently shook the wee lad, leaving him with a severe head injury. Two years after his arrest for domestic abuse he was charged, but not arrested, for viciously attacking a husky. He received a misdemeanor for using both fists to repeatedly punch the dog before picking the husky up by the neck and slamming him back on the ground. He recently sent his mother- in -law threatening texts and killed his current wife’s grandmother in the attack. His Facebook page was reportedly filled with anti-God rhetoric and positive posts about guns and other mass murders. Is it any surprise then, that he would burst into a church sanctuary, walk down the aisles, and systematically shoot 56 people?
The question returns to “why?” Why did God allow such ferocious savagery? The victims were in church, does God not have mercy on His own children? The answer, of course, is yes. Yes, God does have mercy on His children. Unfortunately His ways are not our ways and His gauge is not our gauge. Earth is a temporary home where souls stay on their journey for purification. Those who, through Christ, become sanctified, join God and their loved ones in heaven. God does not set His sights on what happens in this provisional world, what is far more important is that we seek eternity with Him.
We live in a fallen world. Unfortunately, in a fallen world, bad things happen. We experience tragedy and heartache at the hands of others. God did not create robots, He gave us all free will. If we didn’t have the choice between good and evil, honestly, what’s the point? Of his own free will, Stephen Paddock killed 58 people in Las Vegas. Of that same free will, Tawakkol Karman led a nonviolent movement to stop the human rights abuses in Yemen. Through free will, Devin Kelly murdered 26 people, and by free will Stephen Willeford and Johnnie Langendorff gave chase in an attempt to stop him. We all have choices that we make, we can choose good or we can choose to do bad. In the end, nobody but us is responsible for our own choices: not our parents, our spouses, nor God or the devil. We alone must choose our own path, be it for good, or be it for evil.
God made the rules, and he follows them.
Many people ask why God doesn’t stop bad things from happening. Some people ask it sincerely, others ask it mockingly. The truth is, God plays by the rules that He made. Because we have free will, He won’t stop people from doing good or causing evil. If He did, we would no longer be free. People seem to want God to arbitrarily work at our command, like a genie, and not like the All Powerful Creator of the universe. God could cause a bullet to disintegrate as soon as it came out of a gun, or He could cause a bullet to pass right through a victim without damage, but that’s not how life works. A bullet, at high velocity, will pierce skin and puncture vital organs. Actions have consequences. God created physics, He’s not going to break the physical laws of nature at our command.
God created all of us in His image, He gave us a knowledge of good and evil. We can use our propensity for good works to save the world, or we could use our tendency for bad to harm others. We can give life, or we can take life. Whatever path we choose is on us, nobody else is responsible for the decisions we make. Stephen Paddock, Devin Kelley, Adam Lanza, Dylann Roof, and others too numerous to mention here, have all chosen their paths. They will now have to suffer the consequences for all eternity. While those men have all chosen the path of evil, we can choose the path of righteousness. After every disasters countless heroes step up and help out. God is in the first responders, the Good Samaritans, the people who donate time and money to the victims. We may wonder why God is not helping those who suffer, but maybe, just maybe, God is wondering the same about us.
Lessons from Job
Many Christians and Jews have turned to the book of Job to understand human suffering. Job, the most virtuous man of all time, lost everything. His friends accused him of being a sinner, and Job, full of his own righteousness, demanded answers from God Almighty. And God answered him. Unfortunately, for Job, it wasn’t the answer he was looking for. God basically asked Job “Who do you think you are?” before describing to him the entire universe. God named the constellations and listed some of the wildest animals, and He told Job in no uncertain terms that only He was capable of understanding the concept of human suffering.
God, alone, understands the interworking of the Big Bang. No one but God watches in anticipation as the wild animals give birth to their young. God created humans and animals alike and enjoys watching all species frolic and play. God put the rings around Saturn, and the oxygen in water. The tiniest bug on the land and the biggest whale in the ocean exists because a loving God saw fit to fill the earth with variety. He works beyond our understanding, He doesn’t answer to our petty demands. Job lost his home, his family, and his livelihood, he had every reason to be unhappy. His wife told him to curse God and die already, but Job held steadfastly to his faith. In the end, Job had nothing to say but this: “Surely, I spoke of things beyond my understanding.”
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but God truly does work in mysterious ways. There are many things in life to which we will never have the answers. Maybe we’ll find out in heaven, maybe we won’t. As Christians we need to understand that God really does know best. And while we can’t expect God to always give us the answers want, we can trust Him to give us reassurance. God understands suffering. Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus. He knew that he was going to restore Lazarus, yet he wept anyway, grieving as his friends did. Jesus was whipped and beaten, he had thick nails driven into his hands and feet, and a crown of thorns mockingly placed on his head. He struggled to breathe as he hung from that cross, and any time he wanted he had the power to get down and relieve his own suffering. He chose not to. His eyes were on something bigger and better than this earth. He knew that suffering was only temporary, heaven is eternity. Though we suffer, God suffers with us. If we let Him, He will restore us and make us whole. And He will be with us always, to the very end of the age.*
• Matthew 28:20
© 2017 Anna Watson