I have delayed writing about God, faith and Newtown on purpose. First and foremost, I was there last week and I can’t say I was completely objective.
I initially wrote about my experiences from my hotel room.Since then, I have had people ask me what a lot of people are thinking — Why does God allow evil? Some folks seem to think that because I’m a religion reporter, I have some special insight. Or maybe it’s just such an overwhelming question, they want to discuss it with somebody, anybody.
I can appreciate the magnitude of the question.
As Christian leader John Stott notes, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation.”
Cathy Lynn Grossman tackled the question in a piece printed in USA Today last week. She noted the reaction of Rev. Jerry Smith of St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Nashville.
“We have to speak about this shooting and we have to recognize, this is the very darkness that Christ came into the world to dispel,” Smith told The Tennessean.
Personally, assuming God exists, I am in the free-will camp. From Grossman’s story:
Rick Warren, the California megachurch pastor and best-selling author of the recently reissued best-seller “The Purpose-Driven Life,” addressed it last year on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Evil, the ugly twin of goodness, Warren wrote, is part of God’s “greatest blessing and our worst curse: our capacity to make choices.”
Rather than make humankind into puppets that he could pull by a string, says Warren, God granted free will so that he might be “loved and obeyed by creatures who freely, voluntarily choose to love him and each other. Love is not genuine if there is no other option.”
I heard from two York County pastors who cited the story of Herod with me. The king of Judea, Herod (according to the New Testament) tried to kill Jesus by ordering the death of all children under age two in Bethlehem.
Other pastors have told me they switched from their normally cheerful Christmas message to sermonize on Newtown and how it fits with God.
I have enjoyed those messages and would like to share them with a larger audience. I have invited area clergy to share their thoughts and sermons with me and will print portions of their messages here.
The first message is from the Rev. Robert Reidy, who delivered a sermon titled, “God, Unspeakable Tragedy, and Christmas” on Sunday.
Again, the question is: How could God allow Newtown?
Pastor Robert Reidy (Church of the Open Door, Manchester Twp.): “Sometimes I hear people ask: ‘Why didn’t God create a world where these things do not exist?’ The answer is: He did!! Gen. 1:31 – ‘And God saw all that He had made and it was very good.’ God created a world full of His perfection, then He gave us a free will to experience that perfection. If we were programmed to always obey and always love, it wouldn’t really be love and obedience.”
Pastor Jim Driskell (First St. Johns Lutheran Church, York): on Christmas Eve, Pastor Jim delivered this message: “All this tragedy that we’ve seen recently leaves us confused, powerless, cognitive dissonance, we know how it’s supposed to be, according to our concept, our worldview, frankly wishful thinking, the way we want things to be. We want to be Lord of our own life, we want the things we want, our little sins really don’t matter that much we tell ourselves and we overlook what other people do because heavens that would be judgmental. And then when things happen that are tragic we rail against God, how could You let these things happen, they don’t fit into my paradigm of life. Make things happen the way I want! Are we really interested in what God wants? All these things we read in the Bible are so out of touch, things change, things are so different now, but God never changes, he never “gets with it” adjusts to contemporary society. Then when tragedy accompanies change, we don’t take the blame, “oh no, it’s not me, it has to be God who is wrong”. We may not express those feelings, but be honest, isn’t that the way we really feel?”
Pastor Tom Beck (St. Peter’s Church, Springfield Twp.): On Dec. 16, Pastor Tom preached about the presence of evil in the world and the
problems that it creates, including a mad man shooting in a school. He did
it in the context of preaching through a series on Luke.
Pastor Dan Biles (St. Paul Lutheran Church, Spring Grove): On Dec. 16th, Pastor Dan sermonized on Newtown: “As the magnitude of what happened in Newtown unfolded Friday, people took to Facebook to vent their anger, their sorrow, their questions. People needed a way to connect with others. I offered some friends a few thoughts of my own.
“On Dec. 28 the Church observes the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2.13-23). The Church remembers in prayer all those who have been victims of mass murder in history. This year we sadly add those who died yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut. The Church will pray God will not let their deaths be in vain.
“In the end this situation, like all questions of God’s justice, moves us to seek the hope born of the cross. Christian faith believes God can and will work good out of every tragedy, that there is a last judgment of the living and the dead in which God will put all things right. So we pray the Advent prayer: “Even so, Lord, quickly come.
“Christian faith does not give a simple, easy answer to the problems of evil and suffering. But in its liturgy, in the framework and observances of the Church year, it gives a structure for dealing with our grief, our sorrow, our questions that can gives us God’s peace and hope. Which is why the season of Advent is such a blessing to the life of faith. A culture that has been celebrating Christmas since Halloween has no means to deal with tragedy. But the lessons of Advent teach us how to hope with patience. And yes, even joy.”
Father Samuel Houser (St. Patrick Church, York): “Why does God get blamed for man’s poor decisions? He gave us free will and wants us to use it for good but we don’t always use it according to His plan and then He gets blamed for for what we’ve done with the gift He’s given to us. Gifts are given to family and friends at Christmas time and other times with the hope that the gift is used for what it is intended but the giver does not have power over how the receiver uses the gift.”