The murder of so many little children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14th, is a hard thing to face and leaves everyone a little bit short of the answers they seek. In response the sadness my sister felt over the event, she told her friends and co-workers that while we’ll never find a satisfactory answer for why this happened, “we can all pray for God to comfort all the parents as we’re reminded of how little control we actually have over life and death.”
The first response she got was, “The same god who allowed this to happen?”
Psalm 24 begins with the reminder, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Every person and every place in this world are subject to our God’s sovereignty. So why did God allow this to happen? How can we pray to a God that has the sovereign power to remove evil from this world, but allows children to be shot in their schoolroom?
This not an easy question to answer, and when we find an answer to hold on to, it will inevitably leave us wanting something more satisfying. Christians have been faced with this type of question since the foundation of our faith. Even the Apostle Paul dealt with great sorrow when faced with the accusation that God is unjust. If we could handle the issue better than one who saw the risen Christ with his own eyes, it would be a miracle. People have struggled with the problem of evil in this world for millennia, though some have handled it better than others.
In every case our questioning of God’s sovereignty is met without any direct answer. Job never got a reason for his troubles, and God replied by asking, “Who are you to question Me?” Similarly, Paul rebutted his accusers by asking, “Who is man to question God?” We continue to do it anyway, though. We question God every time we can’t understand why such bad things happen. These questions are real and they are serious. They force Christians to take a real look at the state of this sinful world and at the character of the God we serve.
When we do respond to questions about God in the face of tragedy, and we must, we have inspired scripture as our guide. We know that God will return and remove evil from this world, and when that happens, it will not be a job half done. The problem for those asking for God to swoop in and keep evil things from happening is that when God returns to remove evil from this world, this world will end. It will all be over when our good God keeps bad things from happening. It won’t just be the crazy mass murderers that are taken away, but also those who lied even once, those who cheated just a little, and those who disobeyed a single thing their parents said. Grades of punishment for different sins are given only for mankind’s governance of this world. In the presence of a perfect and holy God, the slightest sin is a damning sin. When we ask for God to stop the evil in this world, we are asking Him to either deny His own standard of perfection, holiness, and justice or we are asking Him to end this world.
Well then, what’s stopping Him? Why can’t he just get it over with so we don’t have to struggle through murders and disasters? The Apostle Peter tells us that we suffer through these things during his so-called delay because He is patient with us. We suffer in this temporary place so that every person possible has a chance to hear the gospel and have fellowship with God for eternity. Such is the severity of the punishment we face after death without the salvation found in Jesus Christ. Such is the desire of God to save His children. That this answer leaves us wholly unsatisfied points out our inability to comprehend the severity of Hell compared to what we suffer here.
I am under no illusion that this answer makes this situation easier for the parents and family of those who died in Newton, Connecticut. This answer does not make the loss of a child more bearable or take away the intense grief when a family member dies. This answer leaves us wanting. Even Jesus wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus when he knew full well that he’d just call him out of the grave five minutes later. Life is precious and of great value. This answer won’t dry any tears, but I do believe this is why God does not swoop in and keep disturbed and sinful people from making their evil choices.
So what good does it do? What comfort can such a God possibly bring in this situation?
The answer to this question is easier to bring into focus. God addressed the needs of each person in that town long before this tragedy took place. He provided for them though the sacrificial act of atonement of Jesus Christ who died in our place so that sin itself would be condemned. Through the death of His only son, Jesus, God took care of the eternal destiny of the children and the eternal destiny of the murderer in the same act.
Because of scripture passages such as Deuteronomy 1:39, Matthew 18:3-6, and Matthew 18:10-14, we can be certain that God holds children in a separate category from those who understand the difference between right and wrong. Many also believe that 2 Samuel 12:21-23 is an example of David expressing belief that he would see his dead son again after he dies.
God provides comfort to the grieving parents in Newtown by assuring them that their children are in heaven and that through faith in Christ, they will see their children again.
The one who committed the act of murder now faces God’s judgement. He does not face jail on our government’s dime with free food and clothes for the rest of his life. He faces eternal torment for his sin. Some may find this disturbing because of his known mental problems. But there is no escaping the plans and choices this young man made over an extended period of time that led to this event.
God can provide comfort to the people in Newtown by assuring them that effective justice for the murder of their children and family members has been dealt.
God did not prevent this terrible event from happening, but He has not ignored it. Nor did it catch Him by surprise. God sent his only Son at just the right time so that those children could spend eternity in heaven and so that justice could rightfully be given to a murderer. Let us mourn with those who mourn, and pray that Jesus comes quickly.
My sister summarized it well.
“The same god who allowed this to happen?”
“Yes,” she replied, “the same One who also understands the real pain of losing your child.”