“Where was God?” is the frequent question in the face of tragedies like the Aurora, Colorado shooting during a late-night showing of Batman. The more productive question in such situations is, “What was God not doing?” The answer to that query is more likely to locate answers we might agree on and that are helpful in shaping our views of how things work.
Some suggestions for what God was not doing during the shooting:
1. God was not protecting some people from getting shot because their relatives or friends happened to pray for them earlier in the day, while letting innocent children who did not happen to have been prayed for that day die for purely that reason.
2. God was not letting some people die “for a reason”–for example, so that something positive might eventually come out of it, such as in, “looking back, years later, I realize that the two of us might never have met and married if we had not both lost family members in that shooting.”
3. God was not letting innocent children suffer and die to test the faith of one or more survivors.
4. God was not causing innocent people to die and others to suffer enormously because God wanted to call the victims home to heaven as angels. (If that were the case, something like a lightning strike or heart attack would have sufficed.)
5. God was not allowing innocent children to suffer and die because Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden of Eden (given that God presumably writes all the rules and knows what will or will not happen depending on how they were written, it would be twisted to write them in a way that God knows would result in us screwing up and then suffering for millennia to follow).
6. God was not withholding protection because our country doesn’t obey God anymore (why pick on us, more than say Russia or China?).
7. God was not directing things for a reason, that we must trust until we get to Heaven and have a chance to ask why (the answer would still be that these things happened because James Holmes planned for them to happen).
If you can, upon reflection, agree to one or more of these seven statements, then the next step is to ask yourself, “How did my view of God just change?” Then, “how does that change how I act?”
For example, would you now spend the last thirty seconds when telling family members goodbye before they get on the highway checking to make sure they fastened their seatbelts and reminding them to drive safely, rather than using that time to say a silent prayer?
Likewise, might you invest more thought into how we prevent such a situation from happening again (whether with more mental health resources, less gun control, more gun control, etc.) than spending your time repeatedly reminding yourself to just trust that things happen for a reason?
Don’t feel guilty about this exercise in thought, whatever your religious background.
For those coming from a Christian perspective, remember that you follow a God who urged “Come, let us reason together” and that Jesus–though said to be all-knowing as to the afterlife–wept when Lazarus died. That would suggest that Jesus understood there was human suffering involved when someone dies, not simply “God calling home a precious angel.” Finally, King David–said to one of God’s favorites–did not hesitate to express his anger at God for perceived slights. God can take it.
If there is a God, surely that God is not threatened by our use of the brainpower that makes us human and by our passing moods.
Perhaps “God” is not like us at all, but something more akin to the force of gravity, or the wind, or love.
Or perhaps we need to start from scratch when it comes to God ideas.
For the next tragedy (and there will be another), see if your thoughts about how much God is or is not to blame might be directed more fruitfully, down an entirely different path.