Richard Lee is the Lead Pastor of Bethany Well Church in Fort Lee, NJ. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the church.
On the morning of Friday, December 14th, I dropped off my 6 year-old daughter at her kindergarten class for the day.
Just a little over an hour later, my perception of elementary schools as safe havens would irreparably violated. The tragedy at Newtown cuts deeper and lingers longer than other stories of shootings because of the age of the victims. The idea of terrorizing 6 and 7 year olds is seemingly inconceivable and unforgivable.
On Monday, Fort Lee residents and clergy gathered for a candlelight vigil in Monument Park (video). The passage I shared that night was from Habakkuk 1 and 3.
How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
~ Habakkuk 1:2-3
The prophet Habakkuk found himself amidst a society that had increasingly become rampant with violence and injustice. He called out to the Lord for salvation but felt that his cries went unanswered. Many hearts of the people in this nation today must be echoing the cry of Habakkuk.
"Where are you, God? Why is there so much evil around us?"
We have been here before: Columbine, VA Tech, Ft. Hood, Aurora.
And those are only the ones we remember. Even fewer people remember the spa in Georgia (5 killed), the high school in Ohio (3), the psych hospital in Pittsburgh (2), Oikos University in Oakland (7), the racial shootings in Tulsa (3), the coffee shop in Seattle (6), the Sikh temple in Wisconsin (7), the house near Texas A&M (3), the Empire State Building (2), the sign company in Minneapolis (7), the spa in Wisconsin (4), the mall in Oregon (3).
And those are just the shootings in the last 12 months!
How do we deal with the issue of injustice? How can we reconcile what we want to believe about God with the evidence around us in this world? CS Lewis writes is his theodicy work, The Problem of Pain:
If God were good, He would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.
"God, we are not happy..." That is at the root of our struggle with events like Newtown. And either you don't want us to be happy or you can't make us happy. Either way, we're hopeless and left to fend for ourselves in this God-forsaken existence that some call Life.
Questioning God in the face of suffering is not a new phenomenon. However, it does place us on a steep slope that eventually leads to a subtle belief that the entire universe orbits around its singular most important object, Me. If we are wont to question God's goodness or power every time something unhappy happens, then guess what? You're already living in that universe.
So what can we believe?
No amount of blame put on gun laws, mental health or bad parenting is going to provide any solace to the problem of pain. Instead, it merely distracts us and masks the real underlying insoluble issue. Placing blame may provide solace, but it doesn't provide answers. No explanation will suffice. Nothing can explain Newtown or 9/11 or cancer or sex trafficking. And on we go living in that pain every day.
Instead, when I am faced with a situation that defies explanation and refuses resolution, I don't use that as a time to doubt God; it is precisely that time that I must have more faith in God. Once I take God out of the equation, then we are left in a world where individual decisions of happiness and justice reign. And nothing distinguishes my views from the views of murderers and terrorists. With a belief in a sovereign authority in the universe, then (and only then) do I have a platform to stand on and outrightly reject the act as wrong.
When the unexplainable occurs, resist the urge to dismiss God's goodness or power, because once we lose God, we lose all sense of justice and we lose any right to punish violators of injustice.
Habakkuk chapter 3 ends with his deepened commitment of faith in God, despite the violence and pain around him. There has been no explanation and there has been no resolution. Rather, there was an acknowledgement that a world of injustice without God was worse that a world of injustice being ruled by a just God.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.
~ Habakkuk 3:17-19