The tragic shooting of young children and their teachers and principal in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 has elicited various emotional reactions and attempts at explaining the causes of the incident. Some politicians call for stricter gun control laws while others demand a gun on the hip of every responsible adult. Mental health professionals have stated that the tragedy could have been prevented if we advocated better mental health policies and awareness. Others have blamed God for the catastrophe, claiming that He is responsible for this horrible event. Some, like Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, have taught that we ought to challenge God and cease submitting to His will; thus implying that humanity’s plan for itself may have higher precedence and wisdom than God’s plan and wisdom. Other religious and political leaders, like Fox New’s Mike Huckabee, state that these events are the result of God’s absence from the public arena. Hearing all of these various stances becomes exhausting and frustrating, but I have decided to put “pen to paper” and advocate for God.
On the day of the shooting, I was dispatching at East Haven Fire Department when I received a telephone call informing me that I needed to respond to Echo Hose Ambulance Corps. in Shelton, Connecticut where I am a special operations emergency medical technician and a chaplain. At the conclusion of my shift in East Haven, I drove to Shelton thinking that I would be dispatched to the scene to replace those who had first responded and needed a break. I ended up providing mutual aid coverage for the towns whose resources were depleted because of the shooting. As we hung around EMS headquarters, I spoke with the crews on duty, listened to their thoughts and shared my feelings, but continually expressed one common theme to each person with whom I spoke: Evil actions are not God’s doing, but the doings of those whose hearts have turned away from Him. Despite the varying religious views of the on duty crews, each agreed that only evil could be responsible for the execution of young, innocent children. Each agreed that God is not evil. Each therefore agreed that God did not execute these children. Evil did.
The media had been asking about God’s role in the midst of this event, but were the residents of Newtown asking the same question? The news channels and talk radio stations needed to discuss something, but were the people directly affected by this event angry at God? I needed to know. A little more than a week after the shooting, I traveled to Newtown and spent Christmas Eve praying with people. I prayed with Newtown residents and people who had come as far as the West Coast. I met people who knew the victims, others who had lost their children in other tragedies and came to identify with those mourning, and with those travelers who visited Newtown based upon mere curiosity (with digital cameras in hand). I listened to the religious and non-religious alike, hearing their concerns and comforting them during a very painful time. In all of this, I did not hear one person blame God. Not one person said, “Where is the Lord?” No one said, “Why didn’t God send help?” There was a very simple acknowledgement in each conversation: evil had struck their town and they needed help and comfort. God was their source of comfort and Christians were there to point everyone to Him.
I think it is easy for those who are far away from tragedy to analyze its causes. Both Rabbi Boteach and Mike Huckabee can voice their opinions freely, but their opinions mean nothing until they result in compassionate actions of love and tenderness. As one of many who the Lord dispatched to Newtown, I have reached my own conclusions about God’s presence during the Newtown shootings. Where was God during this tragedy? God was in every single hug, listening to every single prayer, comforting all who needed comfort and beckoning everyone to come to Him and receive His love. He was not yelling, “See this is what you get for taking me out of the pledge of allegiance!” He was not judging these children for failing to pick up their toys or go to bed on time. God was doing what He has done since the beginning of humanity; He was offering truth, love, salvation and peace to a people who can reject or accept Him. He was saying, “I have a better way. I am the way, the truth and the life. Fullness of life is found in me, not within yourselves or your own edification. I want to heal your land, so please call on me and I will.” God did not stomp His feet in spite and send a sick man to commit an evil deed. Satan did. Evil did. God wept and welcomed home His innocent young ones.
Galatians 5:19-21 reads, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and like…” (emphasis mine). John 10:10 reads, “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (emphasis mine). Jesus, on the other hand, comes “that they [meaning us] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). God makes it clear in the Bible that these actions are not His own. Such evil is the result of sin and absence of the presence of God in a person’s heart.
If we took every weapon in the world and burned them all, if we gave weapons to every capable adult, if every mentally ill person received psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs, and the Ten Commandments were posted in the front of every school, we would still see violence and evil. We do not have a weapon problem or a mental health problem or a policy problem (though all of those items could use some adjustment). Ultimately, the world has a sin problem which results in evil. The only solution to the sin problem is Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). In contrast to the works of the flesh (sin) mentioned earlier, the works of the Holy Spirit are the following: love, joy, peace, long-suffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If the world demonstrated those attributes and sought Jesus, that might put a dent in our evil and sin problem, therefore radically changing our gun, mental health, and school violence problem.