The Sandy Hook tragedy: a response

I meant to be posting about the Virgin Birth, but some current events are so terrible that they need to be acknowledged.

My thoughts and prayers genuinely are with those affected. I cry out to God. I have primary-school-age kids. Anyone who has children knows the dread of something happening to them, let alone something like this. There are no words to express the horror and calamity, the grief and loss and pain.

For me, and I suspect for many others, this tragedy raises a number of questions.

Why did it happen? We don’t know, and it’s probably not possible to know. It is in many ways an entirely meaningless, senseless, pointless, reasonless tragedy.

But in a sense (and only in a sense), it perhaps happened because we are all deeply messed-up people living in a deeply messed-up world (and that’s ‘messed up’ with a capital F).

Whatever evil is, it’s not so much ‘out there’ as ‘in here’, in each of us, in our own human hearts and lives, in the mess of our broken lives, broken relationships and broken communities. By which I do not mean to put some political spin on this, either left- or right-wing. The direct societal and psychological causes of an event like this are highly complex and for the most part unknown.

Nor am I bringing some religious agenda – that if we all prayed or read our Bibles or went to church this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. It very likely still would. And one thing I very firmly don’t believe is that this event is a result of ‘keeping God out of schools’, or of any aspect of secular society. Wherever blame lies, if anywhere, it’s not there.

Did God want this to happen? No. Emphatically, totally, utterly no. God did not want or will or plan or intend this tragedy. Of that I am convinced, and if some verses in the Bible suggest that he did, then I stand firmly against such an interpretation.

God did not want this to happen, nor did he make it happen. He is not to blame. Nonetheless, it’s okay and probably even necessary to rage and rail at him, to shout and plead and cry from the depths of our utter incomprehension and horror.

Why then didn’t God prevent it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I wish with all my heart that God would have stepped in to stop all the atrocities and tragedies and disasters that have ever happened. But as I’ve said before, on the whole he hasn’t and he doesn’t.

At this time of year we remember the Christmas story, and of course a major and often overlooked part of that story is Herod’s terrible ‘slaughter of the innocents’: yet another chilling, cold-blooded wholesale massacre of young children. One of the first results of the saviour’s birth was the tragic deaths of a town’s sons. It’s right there at the heart of the Nativity. Evil is real, and it almost always hits the innocent and the powerless first.

What I do believe with all my heart is that God is always present in the midst of tragedy and suffering – not causing it, sadly not always preventing it, but redeeming it. He is there with us, bringing meaning and hope and goodness into (and out of) otherwise meaningless, hopeless and terrible events.

So what hope is there? Those who have died cannot be brought back, nor can they ever be replaced.  Nothing can compensate for their loss. So what hope can there be?

The killer is dead, and cannot be brought to earthly justice. Some will take a measure of comfort from the idea of divine vengeance, that he is in hell. But I see no hope or real comfort or healing in this. The only way there can be hope is for goodness and love and forgiveness to win out over evil and hate. The only way there can be hope is for people to come together in mutual support and compassion to rebuild shattered communities and shattered lives.

And in the end, one day, we believe in the Kingdom that is coming, where all wrongs will be righted and all relationships restored. It will not be yet, but it will be. It will be.

So how should we respond? Firstly, with as much prayer, love, compassion, grace, humility and honesty as we are capable of. And how we should not respond is with finger-pointing, or easy platitudes, or with attempts to make political capital out of tragedy.

So would changing gun laws make any difference? Perhaps, to an extent. In the UK we have much tighter firearm controls, and these kinds of incident happen far more rarely. But they do still happen occasionally. There have been gun massacres, and there have been other kinds of atrocity not related to firearms. All that said, here in the UK many of us do struggle to understand why so many in America feel that it’s their God-given birth-right to possess a firearm. Of course, we have our own different issues and national blindnesses.

Are violent video games to blame? Again, whatever the facts turn out to be in this instance, it’s probably not as simple as that in most cases. For most people, playing violent games and watching violent films isn’t going to spill over into acting out violently in real life. There’s a separation between fantasy and reality. But for some, under certain circumstances, the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred.

Perhaps one of the real issues here is improving support and care for those with mental, emotional and relational health difficulties. These problems can affect anyone, even nice kids from nice families. People who suffer in these ways need support and understanding, not stigmatisation or ostracising.

We’re all in this together – all flawed human beings capable of doing great harm and yet also capable of great compassion and kindness; all struggling to make sense of senseless tragedy and why a good God allows sh*t like this to happen; feeling utterly helpless in the face of events greater than ourselves.

Please God, Christ, shine your light in our darkness. Be with everyone involved in this terrible thing that’s happened. Help us all.

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
This entry was posted in Anger at God, Divine intervention, Evil, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, World events. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Sandy Hook tragedy: a response

  1. Paul says:

    Thank you for a very concise articulation of the feelings and questions that this horrific event has impacted so powerfully on our psyches . Tears have come to my eyes many times as the heart wrenching stories are told about these kids and their teachers. I’m a retired teacher and grandfather so the empathy is obvious.

    However I do want to reflect on the question you raise namely “Why then didn’t God prevent it?” Your last sentence ends by saying ” on the whole he hasn’t and he doesn’t “. Is it such a big stretch to add ” and he can’t”? You see I find great comfort in believing that God as part of His wise creation gave us free will and chose to engage us with his love and compassion in times of suffering rather than leaving open the option that He could have prevented the disaster in the first place.I would just find it impossible to hug a parent of one of those children and say” trust and rely on God’s love and comfort” while believing that He could have prevented this whole tragedy in the first place. So not having to ask the above ” why ” question frees me to identify with God in His heartbrokenness over the evil consequences at Newtown.

    You also said that” God is not to blame”and I agree. However if someone is drowning and I have the life line that would save him and don’t use it, am I not responsible for not intervening ? I don’t blame God because I believe nonintervention was included in His creative will. However for interventionists, is not the door to blame even slightly open?

    As with any event like this , so many questions , so few adequate answers.

    Paul

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    • Thanks Paul. In the face of something like this, I don’t think anyone has any adequate answers. It seems utterly unthinkable that such a thing could have happened, and yet it has. I may joke that the world isn’t going to end tomorrow, but I realise that for many it did already end this week; that for many, the world can never be the same again.

      I agree with you that the position of interventionists is deeply problematic in the face of this and indeed of any tragedy. The trouble is though, I cannot ignore the evidence in my own life which tells me beyond any room for doubt (for me) that God has intervened in my life on countless occasions – including today. I don’t know how to reconcile these two things, but I can’t simply say that God doesn’t ever intervene when I am convinced that he frequently does. What I do believe is that God does not prevent us from committing terrible deeds, with all their tragic consequences for us and for others.

      That’s only the beginning of a very partial answer, but it’s the best I can manage for the moment.

      All the very best,
      Harvey

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    • Hi Paul, thinking about this further, it seems to me that the question revolves around whether (in your view) God can’t intervene, or just doesn’t. In other words, is it actually impossible for God to intervene for some reason, or is it simply the result of a blanket choice he has made never to act in the world?

      It seems to me that, if God doesn’t ever intervene, either he could but chooses not to (ever), or he simply couldn’t, presumably because it would contravene some fundamental aspect of his nature or character. In the first case, we’re really back to your scenario where God holds the life-line but doesn’t throw it (even if for very good reasons, such as allowing us freedom). But in the second case, I personally find it hard to see what aspect of the divine nature or character would be contravened by his ever intervening in the world.

      I’m not actually sure that the interventionist and non-interventionist positions are as different as they appear. Both actually say that God does not (or cannot) act/intervene under certain circumstances or for particular reasons; it’s just that they set their limits and parameters in different places.

      So for non-interventionists, it’s a blanket ban; for interventionists, it’s more complex. We believe there are particular reasons and circumstances under which God can (or does) act and others under which he can’t (or doesn’t). I certainly don’t fully understand these parameters, but I’m content to live with my lack of understanding for now. Sorry if that’s not very helpful!

      Thanks – and God be with you,
      Harvey

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  2. I oocasionally have an opportunity to preach, not very often because I usually don’t have anything significant to say. However, I did speak last year on a Sunday the day after Harold Camping had predicted the Second Coming. I turned in my topic for publiction in the bulletin a few days before, and I entitled it “Why Jesus Did Not Come Yesterday.” My prophecy was sure because Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24-25 “No knows the hour of my coming” is much more reliable than the ramblings of a radio preacher. Hence we should be very careful about speaking for God or about what is about to do.

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    • Thanks Richard – actually I very much agree with you. My article was intentionally tongue-in-cheek, poking fun (perhaps rather childishly) at the idea that anyone can predict when the world will end or when Jesus will return. Of course, it may indeed be today. I’m fairly confident that it won’t be, simply because I doubt that God would want to give credence to new-age prophets of doom, but of course it’s entirely up to him.

      God bless you,
      Harvey

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