Where Was God?

The news reports of the shooting in Sutherland Springs Texas Sunday morning are horrific.  People around the country and world are trying to deal with the ramifications of what happened.  Much time and energy is already being devoted to trying to understand why Devin Kelley at 26 years of age would be motivated to such terrible actions.  Debate is focused on his relationship to his estranged wife and his mother-in-law.  It won’t surprise me in the least if some sort of familial struggle is credited with motivating him to violence.  Whether such is the conclusion or not won’t bring back the dead, won’t turn back time, won’t heal hearts, and won’t answer the ultimate question often posed at times like this – where was God when this happened?

Certain people have already demonstrated their profound lack of understanding of the Christian faith and profound insensitivity to the suffering as they push their ideological agendas of gun control.  The debates will continue to rage.  Laws and rights will be enacted or repealed, but the basic question remains – where was God?

First off, I’d like to point out the crassness of such a question that implies that a God of love of mercy would or should protect a certain minimum threshold of people from violence and evil, but isn’t necessarily held culpable for smaller-scale atrocities.  Why is this question asked when dozens are killed but not one or two?  Is there a categorical difference between the evil of dozens slain in Christian worship and a husband abusing his wife, or a mother neglecting her child, or a neighbor stealing, or a stranger shooting an irritating driver on the freeway?  Is one more evil than the other, or are they all the same evil affecting varying numbers of people?

As a Christian I decry the evil in all of these situations and incidents.  Whatever psychological motivations can be detected or inferred, I know that the deeper underlying issue is the sin that is in all of us.  Sometimes that sin drives people to violence or cruelty in actions.  Other times it prompts them to violence or cruelty with what they say.  Other times, perhaps most of the time, it prompts people to violence or cruelty only in their thoughts and feelings.  But Jesus makes it clear in his teachings in Matthew 5:21-30 that sin is sin is sin, whether it affects one person or one thousand, whether it works itself out in murder or adultery or remains locked in our thoughts and feelings.

So the evil of Mr. Kelley’s murderous rampage is terrible in scope, but no more morally reprehensible – by Biblical standards – than the evil I hold in my heart for the person who cuts me off in traffic.  We as a society must deem certain offenses greater than others.  But the moral guilt of the thought, word, or deed is identical before God.

If we doubted God’s power or presence any time an act of evil was engaged in – even just outwardly manifested evil in word or deed – there wouldn’t be a lot of room left for God to be active at any given moment.  It’s only because certain moments and actions are highlighted for their scale that this question surfaces with us.  But if it’s valid to ask this question for a massacre, it’s valid to ask it for a case of child abuse, or a case of sexual assault, or a case of theft.  Where is a loving, omniscient and all-powerful God when evil occurs?

Biblically, God is where He always has been, always is, and has promised to always be.

God the Father who created all things in Genesis 1 & 2 continues to sustain them still today.  He hasn’t simply wound the clock and nipped out for a nap or a bite to eat.  The fact that Sutherland Springs and the rest of the cosmos as we know it and are accustomed to experience it existed at all on Sunday morning is evidence of God the Father’s divine care and mercy and power.  It was that power that the parishioners gathered to profess and celebrate before they were cruelly shot to death.  Their deaths do not invalidate the reality that they professed when they still had breath.  God the Father/Creator was present and accounted for.

God the Son was present in the forgiveness that was hopefully requested and received in Confession and Absolution.  The sacrifice of God the Son on the cross 2000 years ago, his miraculous resurrection three days later, his ascension to heaven with promises to return just a few short weeks later, none of these realities are altered by what happened in Texas this past weekend.  The forgiveness his death opened up to us through faith in his resurrection was there for every person in that church.  It was there for Mr. Kelley as well, inviting him to repent his evil intentions prior to carrying them out, and even promising forgiveness with his repentance as he lay wounded and preparing to kill himself in his car.  I don’t know whether he accepted that invitation in his final seconds, though I pray he did.  In which case he would have found a God far more gracious and merciful and forgiving than Mr. Kelley had just shown himself to be behind the muzzle of his gun.  That is the kind of gracious and merciful God such a man needs, the kind of God I need if I am to truly trust his promise of grace and forgiveness.  It was the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of the Son of God that the people of that congregation gathered to profess and celebrate as truth before the bullets ushered them into eternity.  The bullets don’t alter that truth in silencing those particular faithful.  God the Son/Redeemer was present and accounted for.

God the Holy Spirit, who had worked faith in the hearts of those parishioners and spurred them to worship that morning to celebrate the good gifts of God was present.  This is the work of God the Holy Spirit in creation, turning hearts to faith, leading people towards repentance and the acceptance of forgiveness, enlightening through the Word of God, and the existence of that small congregation was proof of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence.  I pray that the Holy Spirit’s work of healing, forgiveness, and peace will be powerfully felt and demonstrated and received by those who lost loved ones, family, friends.  The assault rifle did not dispel the Holy Spirit’s presence or purpose.  God the Holy Spirit/Sanctifier was present and accounted for.

God was fully present.  And God did not intervene to miraculously protect his people in Sutherland Springs.  Could He have?  Of course, and the Bible as well as history is chock full of people who credit God with protecting them and delivering them from bodily harm and danger.  But God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that sin brings death.  And while God has a plan to save us from the evil of our sin and has revealed that plan in his Son’s death and resurrection, He has never promised us carte blanche immunity to the effects of our own sin or the sin of those around us.  In fact, He has told us that we will suffer.  We will die.  And He has shown us that our hope is not in avoiding these things but coming through them.

The God in Sutherland Springs Sunday morning is also the God at Calvary 2000 years ago.  The God who did not rescue his own Son from the evil and murderous intentions of humanity, but rather absorbed that hatred and misunderstanding and evil into the wounds of his Son, into the blood that poured from his body, into his very death and burial.  God the Father – through the incarnation of God the Son – knows the suffering that sin causes.  The pain of losing a loved one.  The agony of watching evil at work.  But rather than simply promising to help us avoid these things for the span of a few decades, God the Father clued Eve into the fact that his plan was nothing short than the undoing of sin from the inside out.  To the redemption of creation – inasmuch as creation would accept such redemption.

These are the things those people in Texas gathered to hear, affirm, take strength and hope in for the coming week.  Those are the very things they needed to have on their hearts and minds when brutal violence changed their worship.  It did indeed change their worship, but it didn’t end it.  Those who died continue their worship in heaven, in the presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And those who are left behind are called to continue their worship as well, assured that their worship is in unity with, at one with the worship of their beloved family and friends who now worship in heaven.  This is what Christian worship is – the most obvious point at which the veil between heaven and earth is thinnest, where our praise unites with the praise of the faithful in heaven until that promised day of our Lord’s return, a theme that traditionally occupies the last three weeks of the liturgical church year and start this Sunday.

Others have already pointed out that the seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer – deliver us from evil – is a prayer not only for temporal safety but that the Lord would ultimately maintain us in the faith against the temptations within ourselves, in the world around us, and from our enemy Satan, so that we might (in God’s perfect timing) enter through death into eternal life and eternity with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  God did that Sunday morning, in spite of whatever hateful and spiteful intentions Mr. Kelley may have intended.

So we should continue to pray.  I don’t put much stock in sending thoughts out to those affected, but I trust with all my heart and soul in the efficacy and beauty and importance of prayer.  At all times, and in all places and situations, not simply those that are of a sufficiently horrible nature to grab headline status.

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