A Good God in Bad Times?

In light of the tragic massacre of 26 people at the Sandy Hook

Night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elementary School in Connecticut , some people are going to gravitate toward God, seeking shelter from their pain…but some are going to turn away, maybe not forever, but for a while.

We have a need to have God “behave,” and protect us from bad things, especially when we think we are good people. The question of theodicy – i.e., is God all good and all-powerful? If God is all-powerful, and this happened, then is God NOT all good? Or…if God is all good and this happened…then is God NOT all-powerful?

When tragic and senseless things like this happen, people become confused about God. In general, they are not open to hearing about the need to forgive, or to show mercy…No, their pain, our pain as vulnerable human beings kicks in, and we get angry at God and wonder where God was when the disruption of our peace and stability occurred.

Elie Wiesel wrote, in Night, that as he was suffering in a concentration camp, he felt this anger. In one part of the book he wrote that summer was coming to an end and the Jewish year was almost over…people were suffering and for what? Because a maniac was in control and had no sense of shame or morals or compassion. Where was God? Why was God allowing this to happen? Wiesel wrote, “What are You, my God? How do you compare to this stricken mass gathered to affirm to You their faith, their anger, their defiance? What does Your grandeur mean. Master of the Universe, in the face of all this cowardice, this decay, and this misery? Why do you go on troubling these poor people‘s wounded minds, their ailing bodies?” (p. 66)

He and the other inmates were uttering prayers. “Blessed be God’s name?” Wiesel remembers asking. “Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because he caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? ” He goes on, asking why anyone would bless this God. His pain, his agony, is palpable.

It is in times like these that we often cannot find God, but it isn’t because God is not with  us. We don’t really look for God, and if we found God, we are not sure of what we would say.  Like Wiesel, we would wonder why we should bless this deity who is either not all-powerful or all good. Tragedies like this shake us to our foundations, and it takes us a few minutes to get back to our center.

These parents of the slain children are in mortal agony…there are no words to describe their pain. The spouses of the slain women are likewise in torment. How does one deal with the fact that he or she sent a child to school, only to have that child dead hours later? How does one reconcile the goodness of God with the fact that such a horrible thing happened to totally innocent people?

What I have learned is that we have to let ourselves go through the process of finding God in dark places. There is no quick and easy fix. We cannot take a pill and feel spiritually and/or emotionally OK. God comes to us…or we receive God…in fits and starts. God allows us to turn away over and over as we writhe in pain…and God receives us when we turn back to Him/Her. Emotional and spiritual pain, both of which is part of the emotion called grief, is like a spiritual virus that must run its course. It cannot be rushed. God allows us to rebel, to scream, to shake our heads in disbelief…and God waits for the pain to run its course, after which God hopes we will have a new awareness and appreciation for the kind of omnipresence that is God and that is with us, even when we cannot feel it.

That is a fact, but does not erase our rage or confusion or both about “what” God is, as Wiesel asks, when horrible things happen.  God knows that we have a choice: to sit in our pain and be emulsified by it, or to get up, inch by painful inch, to serve God in spite of the loss and pain we have endured. God does not erase the pain we suffer; Jacob wrestled with God in his pain and wound up with a limp. If we are lucky, we will wrestle with God during our most acute pain, and walk away…albeit with a limp. The limp is the sign that we decided to hold onto God even when we were disgusted or angry or confused or all of the above, because we realized that in spite of our pain, in the end, God was the best answer to recovery and relief from that pain.

I wish that troubled man had not shot and killed all those children; I wish he had not shot the principal and school psychologist and teacher at that school. I wish he had been able to go to God for his tormented soul, or to a doctor if he needed psychiatric help…and yes, I wish God had lent a divine hand and stopped every one of those bullets. But that’ didn’t happen, and the result of that young man’s actions is a slew of people in deep pain. I hope they turn to God, even if that turning is, at this point, sporadic…because in the end, God is the best answer to the questions and the pain that they have.

A candid observation …

Second Amendment, Abused

Why do people go into populated areas and start shooting?

Walther P99, a semi-automatic pistol from the ...
Walther P99, a semi-automatic pistol from the late 1990s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am reeling with the news of the shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut, where it is certain at this moment that there have been “multiple fatalities,” including children and adults. The number keeps fluctuating, but it doesn’t matter. That anyone died in this manner is unconscionable.

Supposedly there were two gunmen. That has not been verified as I write this, but it doesn’t matter. The one alleged gunman who has been killed was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and reportedly had four weapons.  A witness said she heard about “100 rounds” shot. The news is just devastating.

There will be the usual call for gun control, and the usual protests against it, with proponents citing the Second  Amendment as the justification for people – anyone who wants to, basically – purchasing as many guns as they want. But when do the Second Amendment people wake up and smell the roses? Something is horribly wrong in this country.

Bob Costas got much criticism when he spoke up for gun control. He said nothing that does not make sense. He was not proposing that guns be disallowed entirely, but he did speak up for there to be control of the sale of certain kinds of weapons, like semiautomatic guns.

There is never a reason to go into a school or mall or church or post office and begin shooting, and there really is no reason for a civilian to own an automatic weapon. We are not a police state…are we?  Gun ownership proponents defend anyone who wants to be able to own any type of gun he or she wants, but why? Why is there not intelligent discussion and action going on to get semi-automatic weapons banned for sale in this country?

In the mall shooting that happened earlier this week in Oregon, the gunman had a semi-automatic weapon. A guest on the Piers Morgan program this week defended people owning semi-automatic weapons, repeating the oft-heard rationale, “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.  That’s true, but people with guns kill people, and in too many cases, the shootings have nothing to do with self-defense, which is why anti-gun control proponents say gun ownership is necessary. Having the right to bear arms does not mean you have a right to commit mass murder.

In this, the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” the “free” and the “brave” are taking advantage of this constitutional right. Perhaps there ought to be a review of the Constitution, or at least a review of this amendment, and perhaps a new amendment ought to be made that prohibits the sale of semi-automatic weapons in this country. Perhaps that amendment ought to say that the “right to bear arms” is limited to people owning handguns for self-defense and rifles and/or shotguns for hunting.

That would allow people to own guns and disallow people to purchase weapons for the “mass destruction” of human life.

There is no justification for what happened in Connecticut today. Children who woke up and went to school are now dead; some families’ lives have been changed forever. A principal and school psychologist are dead. Just who were these children and school officials threatening?

I think that no matter how bitter the thought, those who believe in gun control ought to speak up. Yes, I know the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a strong lobby with lots of power, but sooner or later the people have to speak truth to power, and the truth is…America’s gun policies are encouraging either sick or bad people to commit mass murder. A trial after the fact is not enough. A trial cannot bring back a beloved family member, innocently gunned down because someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or someone didn’t take his or her meds…It doesn’t bring the loved one back. Surely, gun control opponents understand the tragedy of that reality? Surely they sympathize with people whose lives have been ruined because someone decided to shoot a bunch of people they didn’t even know?

I think of Jim Brady and Gabby Giffords, whose injuries and changed lives we have all seen because of their name recognition, but I am also thinking of the families whom we do not know, families like those of the children and adults killed this morning, who have been thrown into despair. I don’t think the Second Amendment was meant to defend acts that bring that kind of despair on innocent civilians. That amendment was made in a time when new Americans were facing a hostile England, who wanted to take them down. That’s a very different situation than what we have now.

I cannot imagine being a parent shocked into the reality that his or her little child is gone because someone decided he had a right to take lives. The Second Amendment does not give anyone the right to commit mass murder.

A candid observation …

The SKS is a semi-automatic Russian rifle
The SKS is a semi-automatic Russian rifle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)