Yet again, there is an incident of violence that is inexplicable. Yet again, there are families with more questions and no answers for their grief. And there is no logic or reason or sensible way to comprehend the loss of those innocent lives. Our hearts hurt for our friends in Connecticut, and we stand in outrage that such violence has happened. Again.
I am a minister. Some of my more courageous friends have asked those bold questions that come up in the face of tragedy. Where is God in all of this mess? Why would he let something like this happen? If God is so good, and he is supposed to love us, why all the hurt? I confess that I do not have many answers.
I could give you some theology. I know what the academics and seminarians talk about, and I can give you some arguments about the universality of the existence of evil, and how the lack of perfection in creation argues for the existence of a perfect deity. But those sorts of answers seem kind of empty today. While they might make for a good term paper, they seem not to help with the grief and sadness. I am sure that the families of those 27 need something more personal.
Many are talking about gun control, and the associated issues of security in our schools. Perhaps we can point a finger at the video games, or the glorification of violence in the entertainment industry. I am confident that some wise government officials will invest several million of your dollars to create a study to develop strategies to curb the violence. I do not believe that the answers are found in any of these issues. The root of the problem lies elsewhere.
Years ago, when I lived in Europe, I swallowed my anxieties and took a tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was a horrible place, filled with the shadows of death and fear and human suffering. The memories of hatred and pain were almost palpable. I walked around and looked and considered the magnitude of events the occurred on that particular piece of God’s earth. As I walked and thought and considered and prayed, I heard a word from God. As distinctly and clear as talking to a friend, God said to me, “This is what happens when you turn your back on Me.”
The fact is that we are a broken people, living in a broken world. And life is not as it should be. Violence, evil, sin, viciousness happen because human beings choose for it to happen. We have gone our own way in this world, we have rejected our Creator and we all suffer the consequences. The root of the problem lies at the center of the human heart. We are broken, and we are in need of repair and restoration. Instead of listening to God who loves, who speaks life and love and grace into our lives, we choose to listen to the voices of evil, self-direction, power, greed, hatred, and despair.
As a culture and a society, we have chosen to turn our collective backs on God. We have decided that we do not need Him anymore, we are quite well off on our own, and we would just rather not be a “religious” bunch. And as we continue our rebellion from God and grace, as we continue to choose the darkness of self and sin, the stakes will climb higher, and the violence will prevail. This is what happens when you turn your back on Me.
Where was God in the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut? I believe He was in the same place He always is, on His throne in glory, in tears and sorrow, weeping over the foolishness of humanity, the prevalence of hate, and crying out that His people have turned their backs on Him.
And in spite of ourselves, and the stubbornness of our ego, and the sin nature that lies within all of us, still He invites us to return, still He invites us to know peace and healing and hope. If we are to escape from the darkness that seeks to consume our world, there is but one direction. Let us turn our collective faces back to the God of love and light. We might never find all the answers to the violence of mankind, but we might find some solace for ourselves. And if each of us can find some peace as individuals, perhaps there is still for hope for us all.
— The Rev. Brian Hotaling is the senior pastor at Charles Town Baptist Church in Charles Town. Services are held on Sunday at 8:30 and 11 a.m., Wednesdays at 7 p.m.