As a pastor who also works in law enforcement, when tragedies like the horrific school shooting in Newtown, CT take place, I am asked by coworkers and friends to explain how it could happen. I grasp for words to explain it, but in the end there is only one response: We live in a desperately evil world.
When you are confronted with a madman who thinks it is a viable option to take out a classroom full of children there is no explanation other than evil. In the next weeks we will hear that the shooter was mentally ill, we will hear that all guns should be outlawed, and that the government, the police or someone else is ultimately at fault.
None of this will bring back those children or adults. My heart broke when I saw pictures of young children hugging parents as both tried to make sense out of a senseless situation. I cannot begin to fathom the pain that will flood the hearts of parents as they go home and see Christmas presents that will never be unwrapped. Instead of planning for Christmas parties they will plan funerals. My heart weeps.
Many people will ask, “Where was God? Why would God let this happen?” The prophet Habakkuk wrestled with this. He wrote in Habakkuk chapter 1, “God, you’re from eternity, aren’t you? Holy God, we aren’t going to die, are we?” “But you can’t be serious! You can’t condone evil! So why don’t you do something about this? Why are you silent now? This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous and you stand around and watch!” Then, in Chapter 2 he comes to the place where I am when he writes, “What’s God going to say to my questions? I’m braced for the worst. I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon. I’ll wait to see what God says, how he’ll answer my complaint.” (Habakkuk 1, 2 The Message) God answers that the evildoers will pay for their cruelty and be judged by God.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help us all the time. To know that the people who are so evil will someday be judged brings us no solace.
In my role as a crime scene investigator I can picture the scene inside that classroom, and it gives me chills. As a pastor I can see the suffering in the eyes of the parents waiting to hear about their kids. I have been in homicide scenes, and suicides. While I feel compassion for the people who are dead, it is the cries of the living that haunt me. As I leave the scenes to head home, I hear children, friends and family weeping. That sound never goes away. I hear them when I pass those houses years later.
So where am I on this? I am dismayed, but not broken. I like what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Then he says in verse 16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18 NIV)
So I’m not losing heart. I don’t understand, but my understanding isn’t important. I know that bad things happen to good people. I know that life isn’t always fair. I know that God loves me so much he sent his son to die for me. I know that in the end, God wins. I’m not going to spout stupid platitudes like, “God needed those children in heaven.” Baloney! I am just going to climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon. God is there, and he will bring us peace through our pain.
Not understanding, but trusting… Jerry