by Lori Peters, Ratio Christi
The recent school shooting in Newtown, CT that killed 20 children and 6 adults has left people speechless, angry, confused and wondering where God is in the midst of this. In essence people are wondering, “If there is a God, how can He let something like this happen?” In fact, this is a question atheists pose to theists by arguing that if an all loving, all good, all-powerful God exists, He would not allow things of this nature to occur.
So, how should the Christian respond to these types of questions? First, one must discern if the one asking is seeking a debate, an argument, or comfort. The motive of the questioner will tailor the response. For the debater there are wonderful resources that address logical and evidentiary arguments such as God and Evil by Michael Peterson and A Creation-Order Theodicy: God and Gratuitous Evil by Bruce A. Little. If you are not acquainted with the various arguments surrounding the argument from evil, these resources are highly recommended. If you are answering the arguer, then the apologetic response is usually, “If I answer all of your questions will you consider hearing more about the God we are discussing?” If the arguer’s answer is no, then it really does not behoove the Christian to continue. However, if she is willing to listen, then the above resources will aid in responding to their questions.
However, most people fall into the third category. They are not interested in hearing the logic of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense or in hearing the various theodicies that others have proposed to answer their questions. Rather, they are seeking comfort in the grief and understanding in what is not understandable. So, before describing various approaches to their grief, let us discuss what not to say.
What not to say #1:
God is going to bring something good out of this tragedy.
As Christians we desire to defend our God against accusations of apathy or being impersonal. As such we often turn to Scripture to aid in this endeavor. One of the most often quoted verses in times of suffering and tragedy is Romans 8:28,
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
First, this promise is for Christian’s only. So, using it with the world is pointless. Secondly, it is out of context. The verses preceding this verse are referring to our future hope–-in eternity. This verse makes no guarantee that on this earth God is going to turn every evil and suffering in the Christian’s life into something good. Third, some commentators, although not all, believe this passage is referring to those who suffer for righteousness sake, not general suffering and evil. So using this verse is not a good place to begin.
What not to say #2:
We cannot understand God’s ways because of our finite minds.
This statement is a paraphrased version of Isaiah 55:8-9. But this again is out of context. These verses are describing God’s compassion for the wicked and the unrighteous when they turn in repentance to Him. God is responding to the difficulty humans have in understanding God’s compassion toward those who are wicked by giving them forgiveness. It is not describing the mystery of God’s ways. Another reason this is not a good response is because it plays the “mystery card”. It is basically arguing that we don’t understand God, and thus, we cannot question why there is evil and suffering. This is also an extension of the argument above (#1). It claims God brings about good from evil and even if we don’t understand or see the good, He still brings good from evil. It brings no comfort to make the claim that God would bring about good from suffering, yet is a mystery.
What not to say #3:
God is going to use you in ways you never thought of before this happened.
This is a burden, not a comfort. The first problem with this is placing an expectation on someone to look for and search for the potential ministry he might have because of suffering. This is usually based from the 2 Corinthians 1 passage that discusses the comfort from God that Christians who are suffering receive so that they may comfort others. However, the key to this passage is in verse 4 when it states that we may comfort those in any kind of suffering. We don’t have to suffer in the same way as another to comfort them. There are many pregnancy center, domestic violence shelter, and homeless ministry volunteers who serve effectively without having been through the same circumstances. The second problem is this: what if the person trying to find the "ministry" someone told them she would have, never finds it? The psychological and emotional damage can be devastating.
The truth is that we live in a fallen world. Because of sin, there is pain, suffering, and death. This is not always from personal sin, but because of the sin of others and the effect sin has on creation. Mankind is responsible for sin, and thus evil–-not God. However, this same God is waiting. He is waiting for the world and His children to turn to Him in times of suffering. He may or may not choose to providentially intervene in our suffering. He will always bring comfort. The choice is ours to become better or bitter in our relationship to God through evil and suffering. However, for the Christian, God makes it clear that His grace is sufficient. We must share this hope and comfort with those who are suffering, for there is no peace without Jesus Christ. This is the mission we have when events like the Connecticut shooting occur–-to point people to Christ and the God of all comfort.
My Grace is Sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ~2 Cor. 12:9