Below is a question I received from one of my Facebook Friends. I was going to answer this question within FB’s messages but thought others may want to know my response. I am simply sharing this, with the permission of my anonymous friend, in hopes that my answers will help you grapple with Friday’s events.
My friends question was this: I have been struggling with wanting to address a post by our neighbor (a good friend & an atheist) who said “Why has god forsaken us?” Well, I know that God has not forsaken us and that His heart breaks when things like this happen. But we also recognize that America has repeatedly asked Him to leave our schools. But I sense that is not the right thing to say to her. Maybe nothing is the best thing to say here. Any thoughts?
I hear a number of questions within this paragraph and to answer it clearly I will need to break it down. The questions I hear are as follows:
1. Did God forsake us? Behind that is, How can a just and loving God let this happen?
2. Where is God in tragedy?
3. Should God be put back into public school?
4. How do you talk with someone who believe different than you and be respectful?
1. Did God forsake us? The quick answer is no. The story of Christmas, the birth of God’s son, points to the fact that we are not forsaken but forgiven, freed, and reclaimed as God’s own. Christmas marks the start of our Jesus’ salvation journey for our sake. A God who would give up his only Son, for the sake of us, does not forsake us.
I think a question behind this question is one commonly asked; How can a just and loving God let this happen? As a United Methodist pastor, brought up in and taught Wesleyan theology, I believe we have free will. Each of us is given the ability to choose right or wrong, to believe or not to believe. Also, we have to recognize we live in a very fallen world, drenched in sin. If we go back to the original sin, the one Adam and Eve committed we can see what sin is truly about. If you read Genesis 3, you will see the serpent tempt Adam and Eve (Adam was there by the way, read closely) with this phrase. “’You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Gen. 3:4-5) The reason they ate the forbidden fruit was because they wanted to be like God. If you look at all sin, it all goes back to being like God. When people take guns into schools they want to demonstrate their power of life and death. They want to be godlike. If you look at the sins we commit we can usually track back to the fact that we want to be God or we don’t trust God enough.
With that said, God didn’t let Friday’s event take place. It was a decision by Adam Lanza to take lives of too many young and innocent people into his hands. He wanted to play God that morning but thank the Lord he isn’t. God’s heart was the first to break when the events started to unfold. Just like God’s heart breaks every time we sin and that space between humanity and God feels emptier. Humanity is concentrated on making ourselves into “Big Deals” and individuals who stand above others. This is not the way God neither wanted nor originally created the world we live in. And through the gift of his Son, we won’t have to stay this way forever.
2. Where is God in tragedy? Matthew 28:20 (Jesus’ last words on earth in this gospel) “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” Where was God? God was there, in the hallways, in the closets, in the offices, in the classrooms, in the fire station, in the churches, in the town. God was there and everywhere, because God is God. Jesus promises that he will be with us always and I think we lose sight of that. God is right there, with you, right now. It is us, humanity, which has to change our eyes to see God in our midst. God was active in the principals, administrators, and teachers who ran towards the bullets instead of away. God was active in the first responders who provided safety. God was active in the clergy and counselors who provided shoulders, ears, and hugs. God’s presence in tragedy is always overwhelming when we have the right eyes to see God at work.
3. Should God be put back into public school? Once again, using the argument above, God never left. How prideful are we, as humans, to think that through some act of government legislation we can remove God from anything. Once again, this directs us back to original sin, when we think we can be God. Yes, officially teachers cannot lead students in a required prayer every morning, but I bet prayers are said every time they are required to take a test. Prayers are said all the time when courage is being mustarded up to talk to that girl or guy. Prayers are said in sporting events, recitals, and in offices before teacher/parent conferences. God is not absent. God is there. Nothing we can do can kick God out of school because, once again, we aren’t god.
4. How do you talk with someone who believes differently than you while being respectful and understanding? I have found that people are put off by those who have overly bearing and dramatic stances on really anything. Okay, maybe not everyone, but I am, so I try to approach every conversation in that respect. I am not going to wad Jesus up and stuff him down someone’s throat because I don’t wanted to be treated that way. I try to truly live into the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39). If that doesn’t take I go to the golden rule; “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) If we do not see each other as God sees each of us, than we cannot have any type of quality conversation or relationship.
With that said, if I was to have a conversation with my atheist neighbor, and he said, “Why has god forsaken us?” I would simply say, “I don’t believe God has.” Then let the neighbor ask why. Then I would politely lay out my reasons. One, very appropriate to the season, is why Jesus came into this world. Why do we truly celebrate Christmas? We celebrate because God came into this world to restore, forgive and make right what went wrong. Wrong stuff will still happen, really wrong, evil, horrible stuff from nature and humanity. But then I hear the words of Paul in my head; “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” (Romans 8:38-39) No matter how much we play god in our lives, nothing we can do can separate us from God, the God that I worship, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
During the best times here on earth and in the midst of unspeakable evil, God is with us. That is what I hold onto. That is where I find my hope; where I find my peace; where I find my joy; where I come in contact with God’s love.
Peace be with you all,