Yesterday’s violence in Connecticut was horrific. Was anyone not in tears as the news poured in that so many young children had been shot? It was almost too difficult to imagine – a young man walking into a school building and opening fire on children between the ages of five and ten.
People ask a lot of questions when events like this occur. Some of them have to do with our country’s refusal to limit the kinds of guns people can buy. Others have to do with our failure to provide adequate mental health treatment to so many in our society. (And both of those are important issues that should be discussed)
And at some point, the question gets asked, as it does in any tragedy, Where was God? What kind of God allows young children to be massacred? As one of my friends puts it every time an event like this happens: If God is omniscient and omnipotent, how could God foresee this and do nothing to prevent it?
The problem of evil in the world has been discussed by theologians across the centuries, and I’m certainly not the best person to provide any church’s “official” teaching on the matter. So all I can offer are some (not particularly sophisticated) thoughts that reflect how I answer questions such as those posed above for myself.
I’ve come to believe that free will is one of the greatest gifts God gave us as humans. (I say “come to believe” because this is an issue I struggled mightily with when I did the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.) We are created by God to live in perfect union with God, in loving relationship with God. That is the very reason for our existence.
But God does not force us to accept the end for which we were created. Instead, God gives us the choice whether to live as we were intended. We get to say yes or no. Yes, I accept who I am, who I was created to be. Or no, I choose to assign a different meaning to my existence. God wants our yes, but will never force it.
Giving us free will is not costless. It means that there will be some who say no to life with God. Some who will choice evil over good, the infliction of pain over love. That means people will do horrendous things to others, without God stepping in to prevent it. But the alternative would be meaningless – a forced love is no love at all.
The existence of free will means there will be suffering. But I am also convinced that we do not face those sufferings alone; that God is there in that suffering. The suffering and death of Jesus are a reminder to us that there is no suffering we face that God does not face along with us.
And Jesus’ resurrection tells us that the suffering is not the end of the story. That after suffering and death comes resurrection.
Where was God yesterday? Weeping along with the rest of us. Where was God yesterday? Holding fast to those children and adults who were killed? Holding them close to God’s heart.