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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The "God" Conversation

Since the Newtown tragedy that occurred almost 2 weeks ago now, there has been no shortage of the question "Where was God in all of this?"  Echoing what I have both read and heard, if we as Christians believe in a loving, compassionate God, why would he let 20 children and 7 adults be killed?  Where was he to protect the innocent and keep them from harm?  There are no answers that can truly satisfy a person who does not believe in God in the first place as they are merely looking for reasons to bolster their belief against God.  Even for those with a persistent, lasting faith, the answers may seem trite and inadequate in the face of such horror.  Yet, as humans, we question things, we need to see how all the pieces fit into our grand scheme of life and how it functions.  If the answers are not sufficient, we sometimes move on, casting aside our beliefs and our faith for more simple and readily accessible means of justifying or rationalizing what has happened.  Yet, if we as Christians have "faith", then the answers shouldn't matter.  With faith, we know that not everything can be answered to our expectations, for our expectations are human, not divine.  It is not until we realize that if we seek to answer everything, then most times we will only come up with more questions.  Yet there is a paradox within our faith that many haven't been able to come to terms with and as such, have thrown faith aside for belief in nothing.  That one paradox is free will.  People believe (whether due to God or not) that humans have free will.  For those of us that are Christians, we believe that that God gave us free will.  But regardless of who gave us free will, we cherish it greatly and if all else fails, we will still grasp that notion that we are in control of our lives.  I believe we do have free will, yet the problem arises when a tragedy like the one in Newtown occurs.  In the aftermath of any tragedy, it seems we want to be absolved of free will and have it taken away, at least from those that commit the act of violence.  We want free will, yet we want God to step in to prevent a tragedy from occurring.   How is it possible to have it both ways?  It isn't.  We either believe in free will, in which case nothing beyond our powers can prevent a tragedy, or we don't, in which case we believe that nothing we do is in our control, every action we make is predetermined, and as a consequence, leaves us with an image of a spiteful or harsh and cruel God. 

Is it any surprise that those who want it both ways end up casting God aside?  I don't think so.  If I didn't believe in free will, I would have a hard time believing in God after a tragedy like the one in Newtown.  Yet, I believe that we do have free will, and as such, we are susceptible to the many variations that humanity encompasses, from those that seem to be evil incarnate, to those that seem almost divine.  Free will, at least from my perspective, must be accompanied by faith in order for anything to make sense.  If we believe in free will, the ability for humans to act on their own volition, then we must have faith that God will show himself in one form or another.  So I guess faith doesn't have to accompany free will for the non-believer, but for those who call themselves Christians, it is almost necessary.  Yet all that still leaves some of us questioning where God is when a tragedy like this occurs.  One of the best public responses I saw was from Mike Huckabee soon after the tragedy occurred.  (You can find a YouTube clip online if you want to see the complete, unedited, version).  In essence, when asked where God was during the tragedy, his first response was, "We have ushered God out of all our public institutions and yet people ask where God was."  Nothing could be more true.  Instead of offering the opportunity for different religions to be expressed within public institutions, such as an elementary school, we have said that religion has no place within a school and as such, no word should be uttered in reference to God, Allah, or any other type of form of religion.  Yet with a tragedy such as this, we want God to come back and make a difference; before asking him to politely excuse himself out the side door again till something else of this magnitude occurs, in which case the conversation will begin all over again.  Yet we can see God in the tragedy if we look past simply the deaths of 27 people.  Stated by Mr. Huckabee and echoed by a number of other people that I have heard, God made himself present in the teachers, the first responders, and family members and friends who were there to support the victims, He just didn't stop the events from occurring.  He was there when the first responders acted incredibly quickly and rushed to the school to keep the shooting from getting worse.  If they hadn't, the perpetrator could have continued killing many more innocent people.  God was with the teachers and principal as they reacted instantaneously to the threat and did everything in their power to keep the death to a minimum.  Yet we still ask where God was.  If God was completely absent, the killings would have continued and we would be dealing with hundreds of dead children and adults instead of 27.  No number of people dead is a good number, yet the smaller it is, the better. 

Nothing I say here is going to change the mind of an atheist or a non-believer.  I firmly believe that God was present during the Newtown tragedy, not to stop it, but to help those around to keep it from escalating.  God is still present in Newtown, now in the those who are helping to support the victims' families.  If we believe in God, then we also believe that God manifests himself through those that are open to Him.  If we don't want God in our lives, then God will not be there.  We have the ability to allow Him into our hearts or not.  The choice is ours, but if we let Him into our hearts, we can share His love with those around us and help to ease the pain and suffering of others.  It is through our presence and support of others that God makes Himself shown.  It is through our prayers, our loving embrace of someone in pain, or our ability to comfort others, that He breaks through our lives and makes Himself shown.  If we don't believe in God and don't want Him in our lives, then He will not be there.  He is always waiting for us, we just need to open the door and let Him in.  Yet even as I write these words, I know that for the most part they will fall on deaf ears.  There are those who are reading this that will agree with me, agree with what others have said that I am simply relaying here, and will continue on as they have.  Others will scorn me for speaking of God so elaborately and saying that he was there in Newtown, that God shouldn't have stepped in to stop the killings, or that maybe I should get a life.  All that is fine, I am merely saying here that everything depends on our point of view, the way we look at life, and the way we embrace God...or not.  We can either take the view that humanity is inherently screwed up and evil and that is why these tragedies occur.  Or we can take the opposite view that perhaps these tragedies are occurring because we have pushed God out of our lives and have tried to keep Him in a box until we need Him.  I believe that God is always present, we just need to allow Him into our lives in order to experience His love.  If we want free will, we need to believe that tragedies can and will occur in which human life is senselessly taken.  We can not simply put God on the spot and tell Him to prevent all deaths and murders.   Such is the paradox of living a life of faith.  Some can stomach it, other's can't.  Either way, I hold nothing against those that don't believe in God, I just wish them the best of luck.