Obviously no mere human words can undo the pain nor answer the questions nor fully and completely show a way forward from the horror of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
By “way forward” I’m not talking about government policies, the blame game, video games, guns, abortion, or anything else in particular. I’m talking about the totality of the horror at hand, seeing where there is hope for a better future.
I had been unable to write much about the horror, save a couple of thoughts offered on Facebook and a simple post from yesterday. But the facts remain: 20 children and eight adults murdered, for no discernible reason—even a bad one—at all.
The mind reels. The heart aches. The maniacal, mocking face of Satan stares back.
Where was God in all of this? Why did God let this happen? Why was Satan allowed to mock goodness, despoil innocence, and infect the world in such an unimaginably awful manner?
The fact is, God was there. God was there, and was weeping. God was begging the killer to change and be different.
Perhaps the fact that the killer stopped the murder and turned the gun on himself while yet he had hundreds of rounds indicates that his conscience, that small voice of God in all of us, warped as it was, was not quite extinguished and moved him to stop the massacre.
To be sure, God did not wish for the young man to commit suicide, but certainly wished he would choose to stop the murder. The young man chose self-destruction rather than hope when he chose to stop the murder. God wept for that as well.
We know that God weeps for us. The shortest verse in the Bible is two words: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He wept for his dear friend Lazarus, who had died.
He also weeps for our sins. He wept before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), weeping over the blindness of heart of the people and leaders of that royal city.
In both cases He, as God, had the power to command that the condition which grieved him to tears would be different. Indeed, in the one case He exercised that power to undo the grievous situation: he raised Lazarus back to life!
But the raising of Lazarus was a miraculous alteration of a condition of nature, and did not prevent Lazarus eventually dying again. Death, while the most grievous of the wages of sin, is a condition of our nature, it is not itself something that we will. Even in a suicide the choice for death is separate from the death itself: One who casts himself off a cliff can repent of the choice to kill himself and in the mercy of God possibly be forgiven while on the way down. One who commits suicide in a cloud of depression or other psychologically impaired state might also be spared the fires of hell, subject to the mysterious and wonderful perfect mercy of God. By the same token, one who point a gun at another’s heart and pulls the trigger has consented to, and thereby committed, murder, even if the gun jams and the victim lives. Our choice to do something or not to do it matters more than whether or not that thing is fully carried out.
But this series of considerations also points out an important distinction: God can and will, at His discretion, “interfere” with natural processes, like death and sickness. He will not, however, assault or undercut our free will. He respects and loves us too much to do that.
Christ would not force the people and leaders of Jerusalem to believe in Him: what good would their faith be if it were not voluntary? Of what merit is a choice to love if there is not opportunity not to love. Thus the great mystery of free will: the opportunity to choose great good entails the possibility of choosing great evil.
God never wills our evil choices—he always wills goodness—but he takes the risk in letting us decide which we will do, and he weeps when we choose poorly
Jesus also wept a third time in Scripture: in the Garden of Gethsemane. This weeping was not merely for a dead friend or a particular group of people, this weeping was for the entire human race, and his own foreseen passion on our behalf. On all our behalf. Including Friday’s killer.
We are free to love God and thus love our neighbor, and we are free to murder.
A stark choice, but the numbers are in our favor.
The millions upon millions of people who, to varying degrees, choose to love God and neighbor in great good deeds and in everyday small acts of kindness far outnumber the very few who choose heinous acts of evil; but the few, by the sheer unimaginable horror of their deeds, capture our imaginations and chill us to the bone. They scare us because they show the depths to which human beings can fall and the evil we are capable of, and they do it in spectacular fashion. We are driven to dwell on those individual, rare occurrences, to fear and to blame each other, inanimate objects, the media, entertainment, and other factors. Other factors may have been involved, but the evil lay in the choice.
Set opposed to these occasional horrific deeds by a few deeply twisted people we can set the examples of the great saints of our time—Mother Theresa is an obvious and towering example—but also the many, many people who go about selflessness on a regular basis. Even the teacher who hid her students in any nook or cranny that could conceal them and told the killer they were not there before he shot her, shows a remarkable example of virtue. Countless unknown people who place others ahead of themselves as a matter of course show us the smiling, not weeping, face of God.
The pain and horror of this latest explosion of evil is not undone by the presence of so much good in the world, but the presence of that good can at least indicate that hope is possible, that the evil does not dominate and hold sway, that there is a way forward in hope.
And indeed, our faith tells us that this goodness is a hint of the goodness of God: that God has already won, that Satan, though he has his moments and drags some souls down with him, cannot and will not win. Indeed, he has already lost: we’re living in the great drama of his defeat, living in the great drama of the life of God, with the opportunity to bear the goodness of God to all whom we meet, thus sharing the hope in us with them.
This is what Advent is about: a time of hopeful expectation, awaiting the arrival of He who fulfills all hopes and desires, who can heal our hurts and draw us out of crushing pain, who alone suffers the greatest evil of all and returns from the grave, undefeated, to share the victory over death with all who will join Him.
God weeps when we choose evil, but not because He is powerless to bring good. He weeps because he has brought good and we, when we do that which is evil, choose to reject it.
The way forward is choosing good, choosing hope, choosing healing, choosing love, as difficult as it can be at times.
“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men”