Why are we so in love with violence? That has been the question of my last two blogs. Of course, after today, we will collectively recoil as either terrorists or a madman decided to use deadly violence against people who were running or celebrating runners in the Boston Marathon. We again will wrestle with what to do in wake of such an evil attack. And we will wonder about God. How can God allow such things to occur?
A theologian I respect, Frederick Buechner, put his thoughts in a blog today. He said that he heard a preacher say after 9/11 that in situations like this “God is useless.” He said that at first he was appalled at such a thought, but in time he came to admire the preacher for saying this. He said that in the end, all we can know is that God is with us in horrific situations like this. (https://www.facebook.com/frederick.buechner.5)
I understand the thoughts, but I most firmly have to say, “no.” What does it mean that “God is with us” if that God has no input, no control, or no influence over creation? In what way is God just “with us”? Does this mean that God is like a cosmic teddy bear that we can cling to to make us feel better when we face terrible situations?
Our God hates evil. The whole story of the Garden of Eden is the story of how God wanted to ensure that evil would not exist forever. (That’s what the whole symbolism of the angel guarding the tree of life is all about–that sinful humanity should not exist forever.) God rectified this through Jesus’ sacrifice but it must never be lost on us that God can not stand evil. When we recoil from evil, it is an indication that we still have a soul and God’s Spirit is in us.
God judges evil. Scripture says, “‘Vengeance is mine,’ saith the Lord.” If our theology does not afford God to intervene in the course of human affairs and to take action against those committed to evil, we have a god who is unlike the God of the Bible.
So, why does God allow all he allows in our world? How do we deal with stories of an eight-year-old taken out by a bomb full of ball bearings? Writers all the way back to Job have tried to reckon with why God allows evil to continue in this world, especially when it hurts or kills good people. I think that the only thing that makes sense is that God values our freedom, at least for a time, to see how we ourselves will confront and deal with evil. If God didn’t allow us to be free, our freedom to grow as individuals and as a race would cease. It would be like a parent taking a test for a child.
I do believe that God intervenes in the course of human affairs when God feels it does not violate his overarching purposes for us and for our world. And I absolutely believe that God has better things in store in his kingdom for those innocent lives who are lost. I believe that God does more than comfort those who suffer from tragedy. I believe that God sends angels and people directly to help those who suffer due to no fault of their own.
God is not useless in tragedy. God is more than a comforter (although God comforts in a powerful way). God is our way of understanding ultimately what is right, and the One who is ultimately right does not passively sit by when his people encounter evil.
Just as he did with the Hebrews in Egypt, God hears his people when we call out to him. And he responds in this world with people and even sometimes with specific actions. And Jesus shows us how to confront evil, as he did in his life (and it is not about returning evil for evil). I always find Romans 12:21 to be one of the most powerful verses in all of scripture, “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
May God hear our prayers for the people of Boston. May we find the perpetuators of this violence and segregate them far away from the rest of society. Let’s work for a world where violence in all its forms is increasingly seen as the last answer to whatever problem we face.
God bless the people of Boston tonight. God is there to provide comfort, and more, to his people again.
Until next time,