This week the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School have grabbed our attention for understandable reasons. The atrocity of killing 26 people, mostly children in their first grade classroom, is inconceivable to all who think about the event. Though I do not know any of the families affected, as a parent and grandparent, I have felt deep sorrow since that time, and have prayed for those who had such great losses.
One of the classes I teach for Biola’s School of Education is predominantly elementary school teachers. An assignment was already posted on Friday for interaction in an online discussion group, but I sensed the need to “change the subject” and invite these teachers to talk about the day’s events. One of the elementary school teachers was really struggling that day, and wrote her concerns and questions in the blog. She expressed her heartache for the parents and their children, and her desire to present God as a God of love and compassion. Yet, she was stuck on the question, “How could a loving God allow something like this to happen?” Realizing none of us can fully explain the “whys” of tragedy in our world, I decided to respond with the words that follow:
“Mary, I appreciate the sincere questions you are asking as a Christian in response to the Conn. tragedy. These kinds of events not only bring intense sorrow, but they also raise questions for all of us that border on unanswerable. I do believe, however, that we as Christians have some insights into our world . . . what God says is true about our world. I have just a couple of thoughts that I think are important to remember, though I would not claim they answer all of your questions.
First, events like this tragedy remind us that we live in a world where evil truly exists. I'm sure psychological and sociological explanations will be brought forth about this deranged young man who did the shooting. No matter how you explain it or attach blame, his actions against innocent young children are an example of extreme evil destroying human life. We live in a world where the sinfulness of human beings is capable of producing this. Sometimes we forget that in our civilized USA over 40 murders occur on the average each day. We do not notice the extent of this because we do not know the victims and the killings happen separately. So, a shocking event like this is a reminder of the fallenness of our world, and that most of the time we are protected by God from the evil that exists around us.
But the second "reality" that is much more difficult to understand, is why God would allow this evil to express itself at all. C.S. Lewis in a book called The Problem of Pain stated it this way:
'If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.'
If God were all-powerful and evil, or if He were perfectly good but not omnipotent, we might be able to understand tragedy. But God is both all-powerful and perfectly good, leaving us with questions. Lewis and other writers go on to reason in this way. When God created human beings, in order to create a true relationship of love, he provided freedom of choice. Love means nothing unless it is voluntary. This choice has no dangers in a perfect world, but when sinfulness entered the world, there was also the risk that man would choose NOT to love God and choose evil over goodness. Therefore, because of human sinfulness and our ability to choose, the potential of evil is always present in this world. While we may shudder when we see it, we cannot blame God for it. The reality is, we are "protected" by God and his angels more than we are even aware. However, at times the potential of evil becomes real, like last Friday. This is precisely why all human beings and our world awaits God's full redemption when Jesus returns.”