(NOTE: The following two-part post is intended to help people guide their students in grappling with the larger questions of tragedy and evil in the world, not serve as a commentary upon or comfort for anyone directly involved with the recent events of Aurora, Co.)
After the bullets stopped. After the dead and wounded had been cleared. After the perpetrator of this horrific tragedy was incarcerated, a cry rose up across the globe.
Where was God?
If a good God truly does exist, why didn’t He stop this terrible tragedy and prevent the senseless deaths of so many innocent lives?
It’s the same question we wail after every incomprehensible act of terror or devastating natural disaster, as if humanity wants to put their Creator God on trial when evil appears to triumph. Or at the very least call Him to the carpet for gross negligence in caring for the people He created in His image. (For now, let’s put aside the irony of people wanting the sudden involvement of a God they daily deny with their lives.)
A cursory search of Scripture provides answers to these difficult questions – questions which stretch back to Job, which is possibly the oldest book in the Bible. The answers we receive probably don’t bring tremendous comfort to our pampered Western minds.
God limits, but doesn’t nullify the natural effects of sin and evil in the world. People don’t want God to deprive their precious free will and control their lives like a puppet master, yet they howl in frustration when He doesn’t supernaturally step in to thwart every evil, thus eliminating mankind’s free will. Adam ushered sin into our world and that scourge has very real, very terrible consequences.
But God does not stand idle in the face of our own mess. He is merciful, actively limiting or withholding judgment to the last moment and fewest people possible. We see His mercy when Abraham barters with God, getting His promise to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if only 10 righteous souls are found to live there, not 50. In light of these and other behind-the-scenes heavenly conversations, I always wonder when tragedy strikes “How much worse would it have been without God’s intervention?” In the wake of disaster, I always thank God that a similar horror hasn’t happened sooner and that more people weren’t killed in the incident.
Instead of blaming God for when bad things happen, I believe people should thank Him for preventing them from being far worse or happening more often.
God orders things for His glory. Despite the underlying assumption permeating Christian culture that God is deeply concerned with our safety and comfort, He is actually far more concerned with His own glory. Though that might sound like our Creator is egotistical and self-absorbed, it’s actually the only proper response toward perfection. Omnipotent, omniscient omnipresence rightly demands to be worshipped.
Don’t take my word for it. Jesus spoke this Truth in John 9 when His disciples asked about a blind man. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
This man, through no fault of his own, had spent his entire life in suffering and oppression so that God might receive glory at this moment. To my limited, mortal mind, that answer is not fair and even cruel. But as Isaiah 55:8-9 pronounces, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
When bad things happen, they might actually be for God’s glory in the long run. That doesn’t bring comfort in the short term, but it does give us hope that God is in control and has a plan even if we can’t begin to comprehend it.
These are hard truths that demand deep consideration, not platitudes in the face of harsh reality. That’s why tomorrow, we will look at how Jesus acted in the face of tragedy, providing a personal glimpse into the divine perspective on the subject of suffering, pain and grief.