|Children being led to safety out of the Sandy Hook|
Elementary School with their eyes closed to avoid their
seeing anything that might disturb or frighten them.
Those of us who are pastors wrestled with what to say to our congregations yesterday, the third Sunday of this holy season of Advent. Our parishioners are grieving, too, and trying as people of faith to make sense of this senseless tragedy. Where is God in all this?
Unbelievers are quick to use such a disaster to deny the existence of God. They wonder how anyone can believe in a God who would let wenty-six innocent children and adults be so brutally murdered. They don’t understand God’s permissive will and humankind’s propensity for misusing the freedom God has granted us. God did not kill those children; a deranged young man named Adam Lanza did, for reasons we do not yet know or understand.
Believers have their questions, too. Christians may be wondering if in the face of such an unspeakable calamity they can affirm with the Apostle Paul that “in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, RSV).
By the grace of God, however, the truth of Paul’s words is already apparent to the eyes of faith. Hearing the beautiful testimony yesterday of Robbie Parker, whose six-year-old daughter Emily was one of the victims, was for me an inspiring confirmation of the fact that God is indeed working for good in that family. Robbie appealed for prayers not just for the families of the victims, but for Adam Lanza’s family as well. Despite his immense grief, his heart was filled not with vindictiveness but with compassion. “Let this inspire us,” he said, “to be better, more compassionate, and caring toward other people.” That’s how God works for good even in a terrible tragedy like the one in Newtown, Connecticut.
President Obama’s heartfelt words at the memorial service in Newtown yesterday were further confirmation of Paul’s affirmation. The President challenged the nation to take action to end such violent attacks. If this latest attack can be the long-awaited inducement to take whatever steps are necessary and proper to prevent other such tragedies, then good has come out of it. I say “proper” steps, because arming school teachers with hand guns, as some members of Congress are recommending, would hardly be God’s way of working for good.
But if the people impacted by such a tragedy are brought closer to God and become better persons for it, then God is working for good. If people everywhere are more conscious of the precious gift of life, if parents are hugging their children more, if communities are more determined to prevent such calamities from occurring in the future, if families, friends, and neighbors are drawn closer together by their common grief and their desire to heal and to help, if lawmakers are willing to impose stricter controls on the possession and use of weapons and on the kinds of weapons that are available to private citizens, and if more people are moved to speak out against the culture of violence that has engulfed our nation —the movies and television shows we watch, the language we use, the music our young people listen to, the video games they play— then good is coming out of the Newtown tragedy.
The day I fail to see such confirmation of the truth of Paul’s words will be the day I stop believing in God.