As I continue to process and reflect on both the Sandy Hook tragedy and the season of Advent, I’ve found myself deeply disturbed by the responses I’ve seen and heard from friends, influential Christians and even political leaders. It’s something along the lines of this: “We remove God from the schools, and then are surprised when disaster strikes. He wasn’t there because we wouldn’t let him be.”
My heart has been wrestling with statements like this since I first saw them. Something about it feels deeply wrong to me. I came across two blogs today on the topic (here and here if you want to hear from people wiser than myself) that helped me wrestle with and put words to how I’m feeling.
First, I think it’s incredibly unkind to insinuate that God was not with those children and adults that were killed. Imagine being the parent of one of those children, and then listening to everyone claim that God wasn’t with them because the government “doesn’t allow” prayer in schools. It’d be a horrific feeling. As if it’s not already hard enough to know that they couldn’t be with their children in the scariest and final moments of their life, now we’re saying that God wasn’t there either, simply because WE say He can’t be?
In addition to being unkind, I think this line of thinking is dangerous. Do we really think that God is so small, so passive, that the government can govern Him out of a building or a country? Do we really think WE are that powerful? God, who sent His son as a Jew into a Roman ruled country, the same God who watched as Jesus was hung on a cross so that we could be with Him, that God, who has shown up uninvited and even where He was not wanted, that God would not have abandoned those children, who were and are unspeakably precious to Him. He was in that building, filled with grief for the anger and hatred that would change SO many lives. He was holding those sweet, precious children, comforting them. He was with each of those brave teachers and staff members who tried to stop the gunman and protect their kids. He was there. He never left them.
It’s hard to believe right now. I know. I know it hurts. It raises all kinds of really hard questions.
Did God make this happen? (active will)
I would steadfastly say no. No, God is love, God is good, God cannot cause evil. A God that would cause this would not be good.
Okay, so then why did God let this happen? (passive will)
If God is all-powerful (and not regulated by our laws), then He could have stopped the gunman, right? If God is good, He would want to stop the gunman, wouldn’t He?
In all honesty, this has been a struggle for me my entire adult life. God’s active will vs. God’s passive will. I don’t, and certainly won’t pretend to, have all of the answers. I absolutely do not believe that God causes bad things to happen. It is against His character. I do believe that God is all powerful and could stop things from happening, but if He did, He’d be taking away our free will. If God, who loves us enough to send His own Son on our behalf, took away our free will, that wouldn’t be very loving at all. We have all done things solely out of obligation. God doesn’t want us to love or obey out of obligation because (I think) that diminishes the relationship. I love my husband very much, so I am faithful and committed to our relationship. If I were only faithful because of a law, or because I were afraid of repercussions, it would undermine the relationship part of our marriage. So it goes with God. If He forced us to do only His will, what would those actions or that obedience mean? Nothing. Instead, out of His great love for us, He gave us the ability to choose things other than Him. Even when what we choose is horrific, and SO much less than the best He has for us. Even when what we choose breaks His heart because of the suffering it causes us, or others.
I don’t have all the answers, not even close. I don’t understand it all, and I know my thoughts are incomplete answers, at best. But I would challenge you to consider what your claims about God say about Him. I know the hearts of some of the people who have posted these things. I know that they have good intentions and love God and His people. I even sort of get where they are coming from. I get it. We, as a nation, try to separate God out of our laws and actions. We try to take God off the money, out of the pledge, ect. But just because we try does not make us successful. God will be wherever He wants to be. Because He’s God. And He can be. He can be everywhere at once. He was with those precious, sweet children because He loves them more than we can imagine, and because He would have never, ever wanted them to be in pain or to feel alone.
God is good, friends, and He is madly in love with you. He created you, after all. He is with you in your darkest moments, whether you’ve asked Him there or not, because He loves you and never leaves His people. He is with you when you’re full of joy, because God is a God of joy, and all joy is from Him.
As I reflect on this Advent season I am challenged to remember, over and over and over, that darkness can never shut out light. The Advent candles serve as a reminder that the Light is coming, that even in the darkest moments when the darkness is overwhelming, when it feels like that’s all there is, the Savior is coming to be with His precious people. In ancient times when His people were exiled and alone, wandering in the desert, He gave them His precious Son to set them free, to show them that they are not actually ever alone. And today He is with us still. He gives us the Holy Spirit that reminds us gently, even when our minds and hearts can’t understand, that He is always with us, even when the darkness is all we can see.
So, sweet friends, be encouraged this Advent and Christmas season. Christ came, is here and will come again. He is with you, whether you know it or not, when you can’t feel Him, when hope feels impossible. I’m so grateful for the Holy Spirit, which makes my soul believe when my heart and mind absolutely cannot.