The unspeakable tragedy in Aurora, Colorado has captured the attention and rocked the soul of our nation as events of this nature do without fail. In such times, inevitably our thoughts turn inward and upward as we consider our own existence, the nature of humanity and the world in which we live, the existence of God Himself, and many of life’s deeper issues.
So it was unsurprising when CNN this week posed this question as its main headline: “Where Was God in Aurora?” It seems to me a degree disrespectful to the victims of this tragedy to debate theology at such a time as this. Yet the debate is there, and I cannot help but engage in it because many are asking for answers, and many only stop at these types of events to consider life’s deeper issues.
The answers that many give range from extreme to extreme. Two examples from the CNN article suffice: “A loving God who would allow this kind of suffering cannot exist” to “God was in complete control, exercising His will.” But both of these simplistic answers dodge some deeper questions that are worth exploring in greater depth.
My own knee-jerk instinct was to feel that the question “Where was God in that movie theater?” was tragically ironic at best and hypocritical at worst. With a very few notable exceptions, I don’t believe God has been welcome in any movie theater for a couple of generations. Hollywood blasphemes His name with regularity and mocks His Son. We’ve shut Him out (not only of our movies, but of society) and then we have the audacity to ask, “Where was He?!” Though there is a small degree of truth in this, it too, doesn’t sufficiently answer the question, and likely sounds hurtful and callous to those whose loved ones lost their lives.
Have you ever noticed, by the way, that these questions don’t capture headlines during those times of bounty and happiness? Did CNN once pose the question during the economic boom of the late 1990’s, “Where is God?” Or on any of those days when disaster didn’t strike. During those times we barely pay Him any mind. When the plane lands safely; when we enjoy good health; when we live in the most prosperous nation on earth; when we are given another breath. Why don’t we ask “Where is God?” during the good times, as well? Is God not asking us, as He asked Adam in the Garden, “Where are YOU?” But I digress . . .
I love that the Bible doesn’t dodge tough questions or issues like this. I love it that it takes issues of suffering head on. The biggest problem is that people have a warped view of the nature of the God of the Bible. They reject Him without understanding what He is really like. A loving God, in most people’s conception, is a glorified grandpa who exists to give us all wealth, prosperity, and a good time. But this is not the God of the Bible. This is a blasphemous caricature.
We’ve already explored in numerous entries in this blog the issue of the holiness of God. (Go back an re-read a couple of those entries for background if you want.) The bottom line is (and this can sound heartless for the victims of this tragedy, but please bear with me to the end): we live in a fallen world of our own making. From the beginning (see Genesis 3) the sin of humanity set this world on a course that was not originally what God intended. Adam’s sin not only cursed the human beings who came to live in it, but all of creation itself.
God has given his creatures the ability to choose Him or to not choose Him, a concept known as free will. Here’s the key point: in order to have the ability to love, we have to have the ability to choose. God did not create robots whom he forces to love Him. That would not be love. He gives us the choice so that we can love Him and enjoy Him forever, or we can love something else in His rightful place. Sadly, when people reject God and His truth and obedience to Him, it can have devastating consequences for those around them.
It is true, God is ultimately in control of all things. But if God intervened every time any one of us made a wrong or hurtful choice, we would cease to be free, autonomous beings. And generally speaking, people vehemently reject the fatalistic notion that we do not have the ability to choose. Unfortunately, we cannot have both free will and also have a world in which pain and suffering do not exist. The two are mutually exclusive.
When we accuse God with the question “Where were You in Aurora?” we are also operating with an underlying faulty assumption. That assumption is that somehow we deserve something that we didn’t get. Please, please remember that, according to the Scripture, all that we sinful human beings deserve, any one of us, is eternity separated from God in eternal torment. The fact that he gives us life (whether that be 6 years or 106 years) is an undeserved, gracious gift from him. Every breath I breathe in is a gift from God I do not deserve, and for which I should breathe back a prayer of thanksgiving.
Some people will say that this is hateful to say this. I’ll be accused of hate-mongering for saying in that previous paragraph what the Bible says about our lost condition. But it is the story told in God’s word, and it is also only half of the story. The other half is that God does love us and made a way for us to be saved from what we deserve. He gave us His Son Jesus, whom the world daily blasphemes, who stands and beckons us to come to Him to be saved, not because we deserve it, but because of His infinite mercy and grace. His holiness demands that He cannot simply “overlook” our sin. If He did that, He would contradict His very nature. Truth would no longer be truth. Righteousness would no longer be righteousness. But He took our sin upon himself and paid it all with His blood on the cross.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
Can I say in closing, that God takes no delight in our suffering. (Ezek 18:23) He weeps with those who weep (John 11:35). He is near to the broken hearted. He desires that no one should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:15) And He can use even the senseless tragedy perpetrated by a madman to wake people up from their slumber, to cause them to come to their senses, and to acknowledge their tragic neglect of Him, and to turn to Him in repentance and faith.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)