In the words of Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Hab. 1:3)
First, I think it’s a good sign to wonder. It means we’re still capable of caring, that we retain some vestige of God’s image and character in us. The day that something like this doesn’t upset our collective human spirit and bring cries of protest (think Job or David) would be an alarming day indeed.
Second, no one has all the answers, least of all me. However, I believe the answer has to do, oddly enough, with the fact that God’s love is far stronger than ours. We usually think of this as a good thing until tragedy strikes. Then we don’t like God’s love so much. It doesn’t make sense.
You see, our kind of love seeks to protect at any cost the objects of our love. Safety, rather than freedom or experience or understanding, tends to take precedence. And the priority is not just safety for the loved one, but to protect ourselves from pain and grief. This kind of love is a bit selfish and thus weaker than God’s.
I don’t say this critically. It’s just how it is with finite beings who don’t have full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life, death, and everything in between. We aren’t God; and part of not being God means being vulnerable to a certain amount of fear.
By contrast, God’s love isn’t selfish or weak. Our freedom and understanding, rather than physical safety or protection, takes precedence because from His vantage point, all is well in hand even when He doesn’t like what’s going on. His posture is more relaxed because He has full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life and death.
This highlights what I’ve recently been writing about: the difference between love and pride. Pride insists on having its own way—in this case, that safety is more important than freedom or understanding. But love doesn’t insist on having its way. Love is patient, love is kind. And because of its very nature to sacrifice its own protection, God’s love temporarily allows evil for the sake of a greater, long-term cause.
The greater cause is for the objects of His love to learn goodness freely through experience. His goal is for us to choose giving and receiving it on our own without being dictated to. The downside is precisely that we must learn through experience. How will we know what maximum goodness is if we don’t know first-hand what maximum evil is? How will we know joy with no grief? Health and wholeness without illness and ruin?
And that’s when we don’t like God’s love very much. If God wants to love humanity, why should innocent bystanders pay? In my limited self, I don’t like that my 10-yr.-old grandson might suffer just so others can learn compassion or wisdom or hope. I don’t like that I would suffer, too. I simply wouldn’t do things the way God does.
And so, I think that’s why we wonder where God is. We don’t yet have His patience. We don’t have the stomach or strength to let innocents suffer. We say it’s needless and senseless, but in the big picture, it’s probably more thorough and effective.
I’m sure God could instantly vaporize evil, but if He did, we’d never develop His kind of character deep inside. So He chooses a slower process and lets us contribute to the death of evil. I believe this is why trust in Him is the first thing He says we must learn and practice. And He’s right here with us offering comfort, assurance, and peace through it all, although it takes eons longer than I’d like.
For me, this week seems a good time to go back to square one: practicing the presence of God. I’ll take comfort that there’s nowhere in this universe that God isn’t. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psa. 139:7)
I’ll reflect on His nature and character, the strength and qualities in Him I’d like to develop in myself. I’ll compare my understanding to His, look for areas I still struggle with, and invite His help.
I’ll remind myself that even if He doesn’t prevent suffering the way I would, He’s very mindful of destruction, violence, strife, and conflict and knows what it’s like to have a Son murdered. I’ll remember that nothing is irretrievably lost in His world, that nothing is ever wasted, and that as trite as it sounds, all things eventually work for maximum good.
Violence and grief may sicken me, but I don’t want to fill with evil—anger, contempt, or a desire to lash out. I’ll continue to pray for healing of the families that suffer such terrible pain, including the gunman’s family. And, as one inspiring father of a little victim told the world, I won’t let sadness or fear define me or degenerate into a spirit of disgust and despair.
If that tearful dad can do it, surely the human spirit of good will—like God’s—is alive and well right under evil’s nose.