Bullets echo through the halls of schools, the corridors of malls, and the darkness of theaters. Gun control proponents scream to 'get guns out of American society!' and the world breaks into tears wondering why this would happen...again, and then someone, probably an agnostic, asks if there is a Good God, how could He let this happen? This is a very fair question, but one that is often met with the wrong answer in America today.
Although many news stations have brought on theology experts, I still have not seen a satisfactory answer to this question. Of course it is possible that they are trying to be sensitive and not place an answer in front of grieving people, and thus, I wish to qualify this article to say that I am not talking to the parents who lost little children in the most recent school shooting, for I have no words to give to those people, but I leave it to their friends, families, and religious leaders to address. Rather, I write this article to those people who are watching on the sidelines, wondering what the solutions could possibly be, and asking the honest question: How could a Good God let all of these shootings happen? And I hope to propose a solution.
The Character of God
True that most of the time people ask this question, it is a rhetorical hatred of the Christian claims of an all loving God. I understand that, and I do not wish to cast my pearls before swine. However, there are also people that either honestly do not know the answer to that question, or there are people of faith that want to reconcile this apparent contradiction to have a closer walk with God. It is for these two latter cases that I write this article. First, we start by saying that God does have the power to restrain evil. He could make the shooter die of a heart attack before the event, but He does not. He allows the tragic events to unfold for a purpose that may be unknown to us, or maybe, there is a cause we can determine. The chief end of man is to honor God and serve Him alone. The first commandment is to place no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). And I would point out that a god is anything which you consider more important than God. Is it possible that one reason God allows these events to unfold is so that many people come back to serving Him? Do you remember September 11, 2001? During that event many people began to attend church again for the first time. Many of those people fell away but some stayed with God since then. This is not God causing the tragic events, but it is God allowing it to happen and using that tragedy to bring people to faith in Him, which achieves the end purpose of man. This view is not as one person said, God's judgment on America. Be sure that God's judgment, whenever that occurs, will be far more severe than a school shooting or 9/11. But this is God allowing evil people to do bad things, and then using the tragic fallout for His purpose in bringing people closer to Him. The second possible reason is there is such a thing as a wrath of abandonment. In this situation, God will give a culture over to sin as a response to constantly ignoring God and refusing to follow His moral law (Romans 1:18-32). If this is the case in these situations, God removes His restraining power over sin and lets a culture into the path that it insists on wanting to go. This wrath of abandonment will serve to leave the unrepentant sinner to have no good consequences in their life, causing them to hopefully hit bottom because when you are at your most desperate, you start to reach up to the only power strong enough to save you: God, Himself. There are no atheists in foxholes and when you are at the bottom, the sin is no longer fun. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence that God is loving, but what precisely does that mean? We interpret love though our selfish ambitions and sinful heart. I know that sometimes when parents do things that they perceive as love, they are actually harmful acts of self-ambition. Think of it, you may think that it is loving to let a child do whatever he or she wants in the world, but in reality, love is to set that child up with responsibility in life. You are loving to say 'No' you can not have that whole bag of candy in one day because it would make that child sick. So love does have a standard, not based on our feelings, but rather, based on our ultimate outcome. So, indeed, God is loving and He does have the power to restrain evil. So there must be a reason that He chooses not to intervene. Let us examine that next.
On Free Will
On knowing that God can restrain evil, it is important that we examine the hot-topic of Free Will. While I do not subscribe to free will in salvation, I do agree that we have free will over many areas of our life. And there is a very good reason why: If God did not give us free will, we would not choose to love Him and our love would be false. Liken this principle, if you will, to a dysfunctional parent that always insists their child ends the conversation with 'I love you'. If the phrase is forced, is it really a true emotion? Perhaps, but there is no guarantee. Rather, the parent will hear the words out of compulsion and feel good, but the child has no free will in this matter and starts to resent it. What follows is the child blindly says their words, but their heart is far from the feelings. God is interested in our heart condition, not the blind following of a rule or set of rules. He gives us free will so that we can love him out of our own choice, not out of compulsion. The flip side of the free will coin is that people also are free to not love God, and thus, get farther and farther away from Him. As a person becomes farther from God, the fruits of the flesh as more manifested in their life, slowly over time. The fruits of the flesh are the following:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
As these list items are more prevalent in our personal lives, they also become part of our culture over time. As we have removed God from our culture, our culture starts to become more callous, violent, sexualized, and aggressive. This type of culture is the perfect breeding ground for mass acts of violence among a small set of our members. Lets examine this a little closer, and see what solution we can find.
God's Word and Our Life
The book of James calls for the believers responsible living in our world. I want to focus on the fourth chapter. James starts out by examining the source of quarrels and conflict in our heart. He defines the root as our own pleasures that 'wage war against your members', a phrase very much related to Paul and his struggle to do what the spirit calls for though his flesh is not able (Romans 7:14-25). Earlier in his letter, James also identifies our lusts and pleasure as the root of our temptations that will eventually lead us to sin and death if we do not overcome (James 1:13-15). So the first point is that when our pleasures start to control us, it is easy to slip into quarrels and conflicts. If you are still in doubt, place two cookies in a room with three pre-schoolers and watch what happens. James continues that we lust for things that we do not have, and so we commit murder. Perhaps not literal murder, but anger and envy are just as bad. The point is, when we are energized for lustful desire, we tend to justify any means to achieve our end. We will fight, lie, cheat, steal or anything else needed to get to the proper end. James uses a very strong phrase next, 'You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?' James is not talking about the beautiful creation, or being on this planet, but rather, the sin culture. 'World' here is the cultural makeup of humanity, complete with it's sin and hostility. The bottom line here is that God is displeased when we follow the sins of the culture because they are fun, or we have liberty. Rather, he instructs us in the Psalms to place no worthless things before our eyes (Psalm 101:3-4). 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 He tells us to examine every thing carefully, hold fast to the good things and cast out the evil. Paul says finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8). So let us walk with faith and not entertain ourselves with the sin of the world.
What To Do
It is quite clear that we have excused God from the room of our culture. The restraint that for so long empowered America was that same power over which held the Israelites in power in the time of David and Solomon. But as that people walked away from the commands of God, we have done the same. We have many times even forgotten basic decency in our country. Christian children play games and watch movies that glorify the evil, and no one seems concerned. Christian adults do not think it bad to watch movies rife with immoral sexuality, and we spend so little time in prayer and studying the Word that we so profess on Sunday to have the power for all things in life. These are the Christians! Those call to be the salt and the light! I can tell you first hand what you see among the non-Christians, and it is not pretty, but I will not divulge details here. If all of this is disheartening, read on, for James gives us the solution: 'Draw ear to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, your double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be tuned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of The Lord, and He will exalt you (James 4:8-10)'. It is simple, turn to God and truly follow His commands out of love. The result is a manifestation of the Fruit of the Spirit in the citizens, which will bleed over into the culture. When the culture is defined by individual people that exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control, we will be a society that honors God and by extension, loves one another. So the final answer to our question is this: A Good God let this happen so that we as a culture will turn from our sinful ways and return to Him, and His principles for living. This does not apply only to the subset of people that experienced these violent crimes, they were no better nor any worse than the rest of us. These are wake-up calls for all of our society. The ball is in our court. How shall we act?