With the ugly news coming from a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, schoolhouse, people tend to throw out reserved phrases to describe their view of God’s role in the killing of several little girls and a milkman.
1. The sanctimonious person who believes he knows the mind of God, especially in judgment cases, will say God has reserved a special place in hell for milkman turned gunman who apparently wanted to do something sexual to the school girls before or after shooting them. This person probably speaks with the same motivation John and James spoke when they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans who refused them hospitality (Luke 9). What the sanctimonious fail to see is the Lord’s incomprehensible mercy. He forgives evil men on his own terms, which has nothing to do the acts of the men forgiven. In God’s bizarre mercy on mankind, he has saved many evil men from eternal judgment and reserved that special place in hell for relatively decent people because no one can recommend himself to the Lord. The Lord gives his mercy to whomever he wishes.
I admit there is comfort in knowing an murderer will be judged perfectly according to his deeds, but the sanctimonious person sees only his own justice, not his own position under God. If the romantic rouge of Shelly’s poetry right, believing he has sinned too much to receive any eternal mercy, then we are all in trouble. God’s mercy must extend even to horrible criminals like the milkman. And the sanctimonious among us forget just how close to the milkman they are. They give themselves a pass.
2. The sentimental person will say that God wanted those little girls in heaven with him. They were such sweet flowers he had to have them close to him. Somehow that twisted idea is meant to fill the grieving with warmth. If God really thinks this way, he should create his own flowers and give the daughters of Eve long lives of faith and hope.
But the Lord does number our days, and he gives us all only a few of them to trust him before bringing us home or resigning us to exist in isolation forever. Life is a vapor during which he gives all joy and all heartache for drawing us to himself, the source of indescribable peace and genuine strength.
3. That may not comfort the one who readily, understandably, will ask where God was during the murder Monday morning. How could he allow this to happen? I know that some Christians will suggest God isn’t behind this because he does not do evil things. The devil does things like this, so it’s his fault, not God’s. That’s a sorry answer, in my opinion. If God didn’t do it, he could have stopped it, and we return to the original question. Where was the God Almighty, capable of saving the murderer from himself before he executed innocent children?
Right in the middle of it.
In G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, an anarchist charges God with judgmental isolationism, sitting on his ivory pillar to condemn the world by his whim and avoid getting his hands dirty. The anarchist says God knows nothing of the daily pain of life or the suffering of his creation. God replies by quoting Jesus. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”
Unlike any other god of the world’s religions, the Lord has suffered greatly on our behalf. He entered the world we broke, the one we ruined through our selfishness, and suffered at our hands in order to give us eternal mercy and lasting peace. When the innocent suffer, the Lord suffers with them.
4. Why would God suffer like a weakling instead of stopping the murderer? Why did the milkman see a vision and repent or drop dead on his way to the school? Who cares if he suffered with the children; he should have saved them from it? Why didn’t he?
For the person who feels desperate pain asking these questions, don’t worry that God will be offended. He can handle any question you have. He will not reject you for asking hard questions or speaking from your pain. The problem for us, speaking in human terms, is that God rarely answers these questions specifically. I’m sorry. It seems the Lord responds to these situations almost always by urging you to seek him for comfort and strength.
But since we are removed from the intimate pain in Lancaster County, we can talk about these questions a bit more openly. Why didn’t the Lord do something? There’s an ocean full of evil in the world. At what point do you want the Lord to step in and stop it? Just before it gets too ugly for your taste?
When we ask where God is when horrible things happen, we fail to see that the horrible things occur within a large context. It’s easy for you and me to talk about evil in the world at large and charge God with the task of doing something about it, but if he answered us by meddling with the seeds of evil in our lives, we would complain, wouldn’t we? This milkman didn’t wake up in the bed of evil and act on new impulses. He acted on the wickedness he nurtured within his heart for years. When do you think the Lord should have stepped in and arrested him?
The person who prefers to trust himself rather than the Lord has difficulty understanding that the Lord stepped in to arrest death and evil and bring eternal life when he was born in Bethlehem as an infant. He lived in his creation, taught, suffered greatly, died, and rose from the grave in order to save milkmen, congressmen, and angry students from the evil within them. That’s when mankind was offered peace and good will, but we reject it because we’re more comfortable living with ourselves than with our creator. Why he doesn’t force it on us for our own good I have no idea.