Like most people, I was reeling with a painful range of emotions upon hearing of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. A teenager (18) shot and killed nineteen school children and two adults after killing his grandmother.
My emotions are doubtlessly affected by the fact that five of my eight grandchildren attend public elementary schools. I couldn’t help but imagine what I would do if it was one of their schools.
I thought of the families waiting to hear of their children at a local civic center and being asked for DNA swabs to help investigators identify their loved ones. Although the shooting occurred in the late morning, as darkness fell, many families were still waiting at the civic center for word of their children.
It’s painful to realize that this is actually the second-deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history. The December, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, ended with twenty children and six educators killed.
There appears to be no end. Active shooter incidents are escalating at unimaginable rates.
- May 14th an 18-year-old Kills 10 at Buffalo Supermarket.
- May 16th an Asian man opened fire during a lunch reception at a Southern California Taiwanese church on Sunday, killing one person and wounding five senior citizens
- May 24th an 18-year-old shot and killed nineteen school children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas – after killing his grandmother.
It seems like all our public places are vulnerable. Grade schools, universities, theaters, malls, workplaces, churches, grocery stores… Many foreigners have begun to view America, not as a place to live, but a place to die.
Although it’s reported that the shooter in Uvalde, Texas had no known criminal or mental-health history, I am not ready to pass over the fact that as a boy he had a stutter and a strong lisp, which resulted in him being bullied during middle school and junior high school. He also evidently had an unstable home life. Those who knew him testified that he often lashed out against peers and strangers and vandalized homes and cars. None of this excuses him or should be used to suggest that all young people who are mistreated in school will become a threat. But before getting carried off in the political debate over gun control, more intentional focus should be given to these issues.
How can we wrap our hearts and minds around such horror?
We grieve. We weep. We scream in our pain and anger. We protest. How long will this kind of thing go on?
And how can we be honest about what we don’t understand without threatening faith in the truth of what we can and should understand?
Evil, at least of the gratuitous type, the kind that seems to serve no higher purpose or is not necessary to accomplish some equal or greater good, makes no sense to rational minds and compassionate hearts.
We know evil didn’t belong to God’s original good creation and, gratefully, it won’t be part of God’s new creation. Sadly, however, it’s part of life between these two points. We call it life in a fallen world.
There’s a reason why Jesus taught us to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). The need for this prayer implies that God’s will is not being done on earth as in heaven. We live in a world where God’s will is being violated every moment of every day. I acknowledge this not merely as an observer, but as a participant. I need God’s mercy and forgiveness. I know (with gratitude) that if God operated the world on a principle of immediate justice toward evil, I would be doomed (Romans 3:10, 23).
From what I know about God, I can confidently say that He is grieved by these tragic deaths. The murders are violations of God’s will and break God’s heart. If Jesus stood over the grave of His friend and wept (John 11:35), we can be certain that He weeps over the graves of those who were killed.
Very early in history, the heart of God was revealed when, “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).
If we only think about God in terms of his sovereign and benevolent nature. But when understanding God’s sovereign authority over every molecule of life, we should not think of His authority in any way that impugns Him for the evil actions of human beings (James 1:13).
God would not be worthy of the title of deity if He did not possess ultimate and final authority over all things. This means that God is free to act as He chooses in restraining or lifting the restraints on evil and evil beings. Jesus also taught us to daily pray for protection from the evil one (as he prayed for his disciples).
While God is deeply saddened by evil actions, He is never shocked or caught off guard. Sometimes God chooses to restrain evil, but on other occasions, He allows evil to violate His moral will and break His heart.
The most unimaginable example of this occurred “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).
Jesus was “heard by God because of his reverent submission” yet “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21). God the Father let His Son go to death even as Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46
It is not enough to think of God in terms of sovereignty and absolute authority. While we should look to God for guidance and protection in this evil world, we must do so while recognizing that God never promised that we will not be affected by evil in this life. Nor will God force His moral will on those who reject it. Ultimately all things and people will conform to God’s moral will under His judgment, but this will involve God ratifying what we have chosen.
In our efforts to understand how God relates to the evil actions of humans (or even to His own acts of judgment), we must make some important distinctions between God’s sovereign, moral, and dispositional will. If we look only at God’s sovereignty, our understanding will be inadequate. God has offered us a window into His heart or His inner most intentions. This is what we call God’s dispositional will.
- II Peter 3:9 reminds us that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” This obviously refers to something other than the sovereign will or predetermined plan of God because some will perish. What this tells us is that God does not desire that people perish – even though, in His judgment, He will cause some to perish.
- A classic statement on this is found in Ezekiel 33:11: ” `As I live,’ declares the Lord, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ ” (c.f. Lam. 3:33a). God issues some moving pleas for human repentance. Consider Ezekiel 18:30-32 as it gives us a window into the heart of God: ” `Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,’ declares the Lord God. `Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God, `Therefore, repent and live.’ “
- We see this same emphasis in the writings of the apostle Paul: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” ( I Timothy 2:3-4).
- “All things being equal, God does desire that no one perishes, but all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness be vindicated. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the personal application of it” (R.C. Sproul, Following Christ, pp. 217-18).
- “Despite everything it (Scripture) says about the limitless reaches of God’s sovereignty, the Bible insists again and again on God’s unblemished goodness. `The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all His deeds’ (Ps. 145:17). `His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He’ (Deut. 32:4).” (D.A. Carson).
Four truths I need to review
In times like these, I remind myself of things I know and confess that there are things I don’t know or understand. I review four important known truths about God.
- First, when God originally created the earth and gave it to humanity, He declared all He provided to be “very good.”
- Secondly, the apostle Paul wrote, “For by one man sin entered the world and death by sin…” (Rom. 5:12).
- Thirdly, and most importantly, God has decreed a world without the possibility of sin – the new heavens and new earth. “Nothing impure will ever enter it” (Rev. 21:27; cf. Rev. 21:3-5; II Pet. 3:13). Only those who (in this world) have confessed with their mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead will enter this perfect world.
- Fourthly, Scripture reminds us that God is willing to judge evil but restrains His wrath so that more people might come to salvation. “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22-23).