I’m not currently a believer, but I was a committed and serious Christian growing up, as was my family. As such, I still see a lot of religiously themed comments and posts on my Facebook wall. Today, my sister-in-law posted the following in response to the school shooting in Connecticut:
I think I just failed a test. Neighbor asked in passing, “I’m a Christian and all that, but why does God allow things like this to happen?” Told him I’d be happy to talk with him about it when he has time. But I was stumped for a short answer. What is a short answer?!?!
I know my sister-in-law, and she’s also a sincere person who takes her Christian faith seriously. Her Facebook comment wasn’t a trite or empty quest for religious platitudes, but an attempt to honestly deal with today’s tragedy, and to deal with the larger issue of theodicy. It got me thinking, if I were speaking to that neighbor, or to any of my family and friends who are currently believers, how would I answer in a way that was helpful and meaningful to them?
My immediate thought was that, of course, God isn’t responsible. God didn’t bring the gun into the school, or pull the trigger. God didn’t decide it was a good idea to take out whatever grievances he had on a school full of uninvolved strangers. I recalled that Jesus addressed the issue of injustice and evil in the world in Matthew 5:45: “(God) causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
What I didn’t remember, though, was that this passage is in the context of Jesus’ teachings about loving others, including those you hate. The full passage reads like this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
The question isn’t “why does God allow evil”, the question – at least as the gospel writer saw it – is how do we respond when we experience evil. Jesus said we love our neighbors in those times, including neighbors who bring guns into our schools and shoot our children.
Then I thought of Ghandi’s (probably apocryphal) admonition to “be the change you want to see in the world.” And I thought that today, we have exactly the country and the culture that we deserve because of who we chose to be; because we chose it through our actions and inaction. And then I thought that I don’t want to live in that kind of country any longer, and that I feel largely powerless to change the place I find myself looking at today.
I find myself feeling angry today. Angry at people who, in the face of multiple public shootings argue loudly and reflexively that what we really need are more guns, and imply that the victims are somehow to blame because they weren’t armed themselves. Angry at a culture of voyeurism where news cameras and journalists were interviewing the children at the school immediately after the shootings. Angry at a young man who, it appears, decided it was appropriate to kill his mother, and the children and coworkers at her school. I’m angry that Americans will rightly mourn at the murder of 26 innocents in Connecticut, but will shrug our collective shoulders when Pakistani children are killed alongside their parents who have been targeted for assassination with drones and hellfire missiles. Angry at how it’s all messed up, and it feels like we’re collectively paralyzed to do anything about it all.
I should be explicit, I don’t have a point here. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I feel like I need to get it out though, and Crasstalk is generous enough to give me a venue. I was never any good at neatly wrapping up my lessons when I worked as a youth pastor anyway. I just don’t know, and I don’t know where to start, or how to finish. I think Jesus was right – we love our neighbors, especially neighbors that we hate, and maybe in that way they learn to love as well. I think Ghandi was right – we have to be the change we want to see, so that others can see it and can follow along. I feel angry today, but I think I need to focus on acting out love for those around me to see, instead of them seeing 26 dead Americans in Connecticut.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”