The truth about tragedies like the school shooting at Virginia Tech is that God is control of them.
You might have passed some signs this week with hundreds of handwritten notes on them, to eventually be sent down to the Tech Students. Our school has one outside in the center of grounds and it has sharpies all around so people can write anything they want to on it. I was passing it today, and some people wrote in big huge letters: WHY? How could God let this happen? It generated a lot of thoughts in my head.
The first is: These people see the notion of a “good God” as someone who gives them the things they think are best for them. In other words, they think that God should work with our definition of “good.” A good God wouldn’t let people get cancer. A good God wouldn’t let natural disaster destroy towns and small countries. A good God wouldn’t let innocent people get murdered while sitting in class. A good God would stop those things, right?
Wrong. We really have to get outside our definition of good, if we are people who believe we did not create ourselves. If you believe in intelligent design and or theist notions of a supernatural God, then by definition, you believe that your faith is not founded alone on human reason and observed features of the natural world. These sources help reveal the existence of a supreme being as a creator and help us enjoy the world so much more, but ultimately still leave so much unanswered. This is where faith takes over. As believers in a creator, there is a threshold that we pass where we must reasonably conclude to believe the irrational. We don’t necessarily “check our reason at the door” but instead, reason leads us to a place where we realize: we cannot understand the infinite. Faith and reason will never contradict, however. They are co-authors of our thoughts and our beliefs. We have human reason to make sense of our immediate circumstances and our day to day lives, but not so that we can understand every single gear rotation of the earth and every single disaster tragic to our senses.
So what is the real definition of “good?” Good is the way a parent will protect or punish his daughter so that she won’t be hurt more than she understands. For example, on a small scale: Ice cream is good. Nine scoops of ice cream looks good, to the daughter. But the father knows that what she thinks is good will really damage her (stomach ache, malnutrition etc.) This is actually a fact I learned just yesterday, when I went back for 9 cones at Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day (new personal record!). But I was so sick. So sick in fact, that when I gave blood just one hour later, I passed out in the chair after having lost so much blood sugar and since I hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast or lunch prior to the cones. (I was alright, they pulled the plug and elevated my feet and put ice packs all over me. The last thing I remembered saying was : Nurse I think my vision is fading.) The point being: what we think is good is sometimes not good for us at all. We think we have the right to be alive and the right to a world where inexplicable murder is not a possibility. This kind of world, we say, would be good. But no, it can’t be. And the reason that that kind of world can’t be good (which I will eventually get to) is that without those horrible possibilities, we would not know God – the greatest good of all.
I think of the story of Jesus and Lazarus in this instance. Lazarus died and his family buried him in a tomb and eventually, when Jesus showed up a couple of days later, Lazarus’s sister (I think) was mourning and said to Jesus: “Why, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Doesn’t that seem a lot like the question: God, why didn’t you do anything to stop that man from murdering 31 college students?
Jesus’s response: He chooses not to prevent tragedies so that we may know him better. Jesus did not prevent Lazarus from dying because he wanted this family to know defeat and to know utter pain, to know their need for exactly what he has to offer, before he proved his power to them. The answer is this: there must be pain before there can be real joy. There must be tragedy before there can be victory. To know God, there must be death before there can be real life. It is the way of the Lord.
Jesus went to Lazarus and commanded him to come out of the grave. And he did. We know from this example that the Lord has the power to prevent or to not prevent any tragedy, as well as the power to fix them after the fact. Now, this is not to say that the Lord is going to call those 31 students out of the grave, or even heal our sadness in any immediate frame of time. No, I can’t imagine that. I think it will be much more profound than that. I think its something we won’t really get to see until closer to the end of time. When Jesus restores this world to the way it was meant to be, and removes sin from the hearts of all of his children. But in the meantime, I guarantee you that this tragedy at Virginia Tech will have so many spiritual echoes, we wouldn’t be able to begin to count them. People will come to know the Lord through this, and that is something worth so much more than merely having breath in our lungs.
What should our response be to a tragedy like this? Not to ask why. Instead, to worship. We are to worship the Lord, for he is good, and works all things, even the deaths of our friends and family, for the good of those who love him.