By DAVID BAILEY
Pastor, Christ The King Community Church
All of us are staggered by the tragic and senseless events which unfolded last week in Newtown, Conn. Our hearts are broken. Our minds overwhelmed.
Sadly, inevitably, in the middle of a tragedy of this magnitude, someone is going to ask, “Where was God when all this was happening?”
We ask that because it is our tendency to look at the really bad or difficult experiences of life and think to ourselves, “This tells me something about the nature of God.”
And we say it as if the world is an essentially good place where a totally unpredictable God allows (for some mysterious, unknown reason) bad things to suddenly and sadly intrude into the human experience.
In his book, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Phillip Yancey makes this comment: Nowadays we tend to blame God, both for the cataclysmic — which insurance companies call “acts of God” — and for the trivial. At the 1994 Winter Olympics, when speed-skater Dan Janssen scraped the ice and lost the 500-meter race once again, his wife, Robin, cried out instinctively, “Why, God, again? God can’t be that cruel!” A few months later a young woman wrote Dr. James Dobson this letter, “Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated! I asked, God, ‘Why have you allowed this to happen to me?’ “Exactly what role did God play? I cannot help but wonder in an ice-skater losing control on a turn and a young couple losing control on a date?”
How sad it is when the only response we have to life’s inevitable challenges is that we might be the victim of some cruel, cosmic prank.
As much as we might romanticize our world as someplace good, the reality is, from a Christian perspective, that the world we share is a sin-stained creation that is essentially “broken” at its core – where the good that still resonates in the human heart, and the wonderfulness that can characterize the human experience, is only the residue of the image of God in which we were originally created.
The story of the unrelenting love of God as portrayed in the Genesis narrative is that, while this world was created as a good place and an incredible paradise, mankind decided to turn away from God and do our own thing – and that opened the door to all the suffering and misery that we see in our world today.
So now we live in a world that doesn’t work the way it was designed to. And the bad things that happen in life are part-and-parcel of its defective nature.
Violence, hatred, murder, greed, racism… they’re not insights into who God is or how God works… they are ongoing lessons into what what the consequences of self-centeredness, pride and self-will are.
Trying to “discover” God, or the nature of God, in the middle of that brokenness is like going grocery shopping at the garbage dump!
If we don’t resolve ourselves to the sin-warped nature of our world, not only do we find ourselves creating bizarre, circuitous philosophies to try to sort out the nature of things, but when circumstances go sideways we get trapped at the question, “why?”
A prominent pastor shared about praying with a young couple who had just lost their boy in a tragic accident. The three of them were huddled in a private place, and the husband was choking and crying and heaving. When it was his turn to pray he whispered these words about five times: “God, how could you? How could you?” Then he choked and he cried a little bit and he came back, “How could you?” He started saying, “You could have stopped the car. Why didn’t you? How can I ever trust you again? How could you?” He ended his prayer, “How could you?”
Then suddenly, as if he had come to his senses, he grabbed the pastor’s arm and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for what I did. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.” Wisely, I think, the pastor took his arm and said, “It’s OK. God can handle this.”
And he’s right, God can handle our anger and our misgivings, it’s just part of the human journey.
But leaving it there isn’t good enough — we have to sort out our response to tragedy in real and constructive ways so we don’t get trapped into looking for answers that aren’t really answers, and searching for a “logic” that, in the end, just doesn’t make much real sense.
And the last thing we need is another pat answer. Pat answers and circuitous logic do not bear up under the incredible weight of grief and sadness left in the wake of events like Newtown.
This is not a “good place where bad things happen.” We are not victims of God’s mysterious will. We live in a world that has lost its original perfection – which has lead to a long history of some really, really bad things – but where (thank God!) good still manages to rise through the murky waters of man’s inhumanity to man and bring beauty and meaning.
I think it’s also really important to understand — in the middle of horrific events like Katrina, or 9/11, or Newtown – that God is not “trying to tell us something,” or “get our attention.” The Bible is a fairly comprehensive text of whatever He needs to say to us. God is not so limited in His ability to communicate to us that he has to resort to being the author of, or the co-conspirator in, the tragedies that mar the human experience. Life is just, well ... life. Because of it’s broken, defective nature, life is not fair.
As Jesus hung on the cross – the cruelest form of punishment and death that the human mind could conceive – his broken and bloodied body cried out to humanity, “This is what sin looks like. This is what sin makes one person do to their fellow man. This is what you will never solve on your own. This is why I came.”
The essence of the Christmas story is that Jesus came to bring us the gift of peace – with God, with ourselves, with our fellow man. Through the centuries, religious and irreligious people alike have missed the point. We missed the point in understanding the nature of our world, and we missed the point in receiving the gift.
And, until our world is put right again, they will continue to happen. That is why Christians around the globe cry out in prayer every day, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth…”
Newtown tells us nothing about God, but everything about ourselves and our need to hear again the message of the angels, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…” (Luke 2:10 – 12)
The incredible sadness that overwhelms all of our hearts in this situation is, in one very real way, a longing for home.