Where was God when little children were murdered, we ask, or when innocent bystanders lost limbs or lives? Why did he allow this to happen?
Why does God let these things happen? God is helpless before the fact that he has given people free choice…He so loves that he will not dictate. He offers life, he offers love, he offers deliverance, he offers peace, he offers hope, and when people choose the darkness rather than the light, the judgment that comes upon them begins to manifest through them. And everybody wants a magic button pushed so that we can turn off the responsibility and the accountability of our human capacities to choose, and it can’t be done. Not because God couldn’t smash it, but if he smashed that in people’s capabilities, it would also smash the ability to open up to the fullness of his life and love. And so he keeps the door open, and calls us to move with the confidence that all the beauty of his life is still the same. And it’s not a matter of poeticizing, it’s not a matter of just pretending, it’s not a matter of shirking off the agony of things that happen around us, but rather invading the agony by the fullness of his life in us with the river of God’s grace and life happening in us.
Maybe that’s true, though it doesn’t help those families who buried their sons or daughters, mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters in Newtown and Boston, or who face a lifetime scarred by memories and missing limbs. But it’s that first question that I’ve been pondering since Adam Lanza took the lives of those children: where was God?
This one is easier to answer, if you look. He could be found inspiring bravery and selflessness in the face of cowardice and narcissism. Sometimes in war, we hear stories of people who throw themselves on grenades, knowing it will cost their lives but save others. Or we hear about first responders who run toward a burning building, not knowing for sure if they’ll return. We don’t think we’ll have to read about that kind of bravery at an elementary school or a city marathon. But even though evil has no boundaries, neither does God’s ability to reveal glimpes of good out of abomination.
There were the Newtown school principal and psychologist, who both tried to overpower the shooter after he forced his way into the building. Principal Dawn Hochsprung was emerging from a meeting when she saw the shooter. Several colleagues were about to step into his line of fire, so she yelled a warning to lock the door as she and psychologist Mary Sherlach ran toward their deaths.
There was Costa Rican immigrant Carlos Arredondo, who stood at the Boston Marathon finish line, handing out American flags to honor the sons he lost to war and despair. When the bombs exploded, while most were running in fear from the scene, he hurdled the barricades to help a man who had lost both legs in the blasts. “I concentrated on just the young man, I tied up his leg and talked to him,” he said. His sweatshirt sleeves soaked in blood, Arredondo found a wheelchair and pushed the man to a medical tent. He had no way to know if another bomb would take his own life, but somehow he overcame that fear in favor of a larger cause.
Newtown teacher Victoria Soto attempted to hide several children in a closet. When the shooter entered her classroom, she told him that the children were in the auditorium, but several children tried to run for safety and were shot, so Soto put herself between the shooter and her remaining students. Somehow, she found the will to trade her life for her kids.
Joe Andruzzi, whose foundation raises funds to assist cancer patients, was near the Boston finish line to cheer for a team running for the foundation. After the bombs blew, he was photographed carrying an injured, distraught woman out of danger.
Newtown teacher Kaitlin Roig locked her classroom door and herded her students into the bathroom, begging her students to be quiet. “If they started crying, I would take their face and say, ‘It’s going to be OK. Show me your smile,’ ” she said. “I tried to be very strong for my children. I said anyone who believed in the power of prayer, we need to pray. And those who don’t believe in prayer, think happy thoughts… I said to them, ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much and that it’s going to be OK,’ because I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear.”
She was sure they would die, but somehow she found the strength to encourage them, to love on them, to protect them.
Tracy Munro came to the Boston Marathon to cheer on her friends and family. She started to run away after the blasts but stopped, went back, and found a man working on a little girl who had lost her leg. “I just knelt down close to her and I rubbed the side of her face and I tried to hold on to her hand…and I said, ‘Hi, baby, just look up at me. Look — look in my eyes…it’s going to be OK. What’s your name?’ The girl’s name was Jane Richard, the sister of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who died in the blast. Munro said Jane was “very, very brave — at an absolutely horrific time,” but the same could be said of Tracy Munro.
Newtown teacher Laura Feinstein hid with students under desks and shelves after hearing gunshots, playing games “to distract ourselves from what was going on.” Teacher Abbey Clements reached into the hallway as bullets rang out, pulling two third graders into her classroom and to safety. Teacher Maryrose Kristopik barricaded her fourth-graders in a tiny supply closet as the shooter stood outside the door shouting “Let me in!” A custodian ran through hallways, alerting classrooms.
Chris Rupe had just finished Monday’s Boston Marathon when he heard a loud explosion about 10 yards away. A general surgeon from Kansas, Rupe started to run away from the blasts, but also turned back to help the injured. He ended up in a medical tent, usually used for dehydrated or weary runners; despite his own exhaustion from the 26-mile run, he stayed for an hour until the injured were transported to hospitals. “I think they were glad to have someone who knows about treating wounds,” he said.
Whether they lived or died, they somehow found the strength to protect or encourage the innocent. I think that strength came from God, who wept over the decisions made by a lone gunman and a pair of Chechen terrorists, but who gave an exemplary group of adults and children the strength to reveal his heart.
Now hold on, Ken: you’re not claiming that those people were Christians, are you? You can’t know that. And I’d say you’re right. But it doesn’t matter. The God of the universe rescued us, and he gives us the innate ability and desire to rescue others. To show the heart of a God who would lay down his life for man. (This is inspired partially by this post by A.J. Swoboda.)
And lest we forget, God could also be found in the prayers of millions, if not billions, who lifted their eyes to the maker of heaven and earth, grasping at his promise to watch over us and keep us from harm.
But wait, we say: He didn’t keep that promise with those beautiful children and courageous adults.
Not in this life, he reminds us, but their souls are safe with me for eternity.