Today, two weeks after the Newtown Tragedy, I welcome Pastor T.E. Hanna as a guest blogger to reflect on the Sandy Hook shootings and to tackle a few tough faith related questions.
T.E. Hanna is currently completing his final term as a Masters of Divinity student at Asbury Theological Seminary. In addition to his studies, he serves the church in two roles: as Senior Pastor at one location and as Director of Student Ministries at another. Follow his blog at OfDustAndKings.com or connect with him on Google+.
The God Who Wasn’t There: Answering The Newtown Tragedy by T.E. Hanna
Since December 14, when the unimaginable horror of the Sandy Hook shootings first reverberated throughout the news media worldwide, people have gathered to mourn, to cry, to rage, and to question. The very attempt to make sense of such an insensible atrocity seems an effort in futility, yet the following days would be marked by a news media consumed with just that. Sometimes, the answers just aren’t there.
As much as we wish to know why, for many of us the questions run even deeper. After all, we serve a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and good. Surely, if God is all-knowing, then He knew this tragedy was about to take place. Surely, if God is all-powerful, then He had the capacity to stop it from happening. Surely, if God is good, then He must have felt compelled to stop that man from walking into an elementary school with an arsenal, and systematically executing innocent children. So then, why did this take place? Somehow, in light of the suffering born that day, the standard response that “He has a plan” seems to fall short and rings hollow.
I don’t pretend to know why this happened. Some things are too big for mere mortals to grasp. However, as I slowly recover from the shock, I find solace (and, perhaps, a few answers) from remembering the following truths about our world, our God, and who we are called to be:
- We live in a broken world. This is at the heart of our faith. In the beginning, when God created all things, He created them and declared them to be “good.” It was in the garden where this created order became usurped, as the archetypal couple chose to know not just good, but evil as well. Thus, evil was invited into creation, and brokenness marred our world. The first result was murder – fratricide, even – as Cain chose to execute his own brother. Evil is a part of our world. Sandy Hook was an expression of evil.
- We worship a broken Lord. The God we serve does not separate Himself from our suffering. Rather, He entered fully into it. The moment of our redemption came not in spite of evil, but because of it. Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, illegally arrested, secretly tried, grotesquely tortured, and then executed in agonizing fashion despite being declared innocent. It was evil that put Him on that cross. Jesus suffered at the hands of evil. We, who experience evil now, do not suffer alone.
- Brokenness brings redemption. It is a marvelous thing that this man who raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, cleansed the lepers, made lame men walk, cast out demons, and healed women with chronic blood issues, also rose from the dead Himself. This was more than an animated corpse – this was a complete transformation into a glorified body. And yet, in spite of this glorious transformation, He still bore the scars of His crucifixion. It is these very scars we now look at and see as beautiful, for it is “by His stripes we are healed.” The same principle holds true in our own lives. Our ability to act as healers in a broken world most often flows out of our own ragged scars.
- Brokenness is temporary. Pain is not the final picture. Just as evil was never an intended part of the created order, neither is it permanent. The time will come when this dualism will be divided and judged, when brokenness will be made whole, and when evil and pain will be replaced with laughter and peace. This may provide little comfort in the immediate, but what it means is this: we live with a glorious hope.
So where was God in Newtown? I believe God was there in the midst of it. I believe He was with the teachers, who embodied the fullest picture of love as they sacrificed themselves for their children. I believe He was with the children, cradling them in His arms as they faced the darkest moment of their lives and, for many of them, welcoming them Home. I believe He was with the parents, the survivors, and all the victims who now face a long road ahead of them. I believe He is still with them, seen or unseen, offering comfort in the midst of grief.
And, I believe He is with you and me, walking with us as we struggle to make sense of the insensible, calling us to give life to our scars, and inviting us to become agents of healing in a world that is so evidently broken.
Want to read more of T.E. Hanna’s theological insights? Check out his blog at OfDustAndKings.com: reflections on God, His Kingdom, and what it means to be human or connect with him on Google+.