There was another school shooting recently. They happen too often. It makes me glad that the school year is coming to a close. This time it was at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian college of 4,000 students.
After the shooting, Frank Spina, a professor of Biblical Studies at the college, spoke to students at a prayer service. He said, "There's no explaining it. This is not God's plan. This is not God's will. This is not God's way of teaching us a lesson."
I applaud this professor for being honest with the students. He resisted the temptation to mouth comforting clichés, which are so often proffered at such times. No appealing to God’s mysterious ways. No insisting that atrocities are really blessings in disguise, divine good appearing as human evil. He refused to feed his students the spiritual pabulum so often repeated at funerals of shooting victims.
Recently at a Bible Study that I lead, one of the participants shared his struggle with the repeated commands of God in the Old Testament to kill all the inhabitants of some cities, including children and infants and even animals.
Personally I find the issue of violence against innocents to be the most serious challenge to the Christian worldview. That is true whether I find it in the pages of the Bible or the headlines of the newspaper. Paradoxically this issue has also been for me an opening into God’s presence.
Evil and suffering cannot be explained away by theological gymnastics. We can’t blame it on the devil or write it off as man’s free will. God commands things in the Bible that we would call evil when ordered by human commanders today. We call it genocide and label the perpetrator a war criminal.
Whenever mass killings of innocent people happen in our world today, we must admit – at the very least - that God has permitted them to happen. God could stop them if he wanted. After all God is omnipotent.
In Seattle a heroic student named Jon Meis stopped the shooter with pepper spray, and held the murderer in a headlock until help arrived. Thereby he saved many lives. Why didn’t God do as much? And don’t tell me God sent Jon Meis to do it for him! That is a copout.
It is important to ask this question. Ask it deeply and repeatedly. Go further than the professor at SPU. He said that this shooting was not God’s will or God’s plan. What are the implications of that statement?
Does that mean that it was beyond God’s control? That God was helpless to stop it? If so, then how can we call him omnipotent? If he is not all-powerful, then why call him God? (This is how the ancient philosopher Epicurus phrased the issue 300 years before Christ.)
If we believe God is all-powerful then we have to admit that nothing can happen apart from God’s will. God either permits or causes such tragedies. What does that say about God? Is God all-powerful but not good? (Again this is Epicurus’ phrase.) If he is not good, then he is not God – at least not the Christian God.
So what is the answer? The solution is to keep asking this question and not let go. Do not let God off the hook or defend him. Do not justify his actions in the Scriptures or current events. Do not look for ethical loopholes. Wrestle with God like Jacob. Argue with him like Job. If we ruthlessly stay with the question, it will take us into the heart of God.
If we refuse to drop the issue, we are eventually propelled beyond religious sophistry into the very Being of God. Like Job we meet God in the Cloud of Unknowing. We experience the Truth that includes all things and encompasses all events. God is experienced inexplicably as Unconditional Love.
The question holds the answer. It is the eye of the needle. It is the strait way and the narrow gate into the Kingdom of God. It is the door of heaven. It is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Seek and we shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened.