Newtown shootings renew questions about evil and suffering

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Mourners embrace outside Green Funeral Home in Fairfield, CT during the funeral for Noah Pozner, a victim of the Newtown shootings.

Mourners embrace outside Green Funeral Home in Fairfield, CT during the funeral for Noah Pozner, a victim of the Newtown shootings. RNS photo by Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

(RNS) “Oh, God!”

That cry has echoed ever since news of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

As the names of those who died are made known, that cry is followed by a question: Why? Why does God allow evil?

Mourners embrace outside Green Funeral Home in Fairfield, CT during the funeral for Noah Pozner, a victim of the Newtown shootings.

Mourners embrace outside Green Funeral Home in Fairfield, CT during the funeral for Noah Pozner, a victim of the Newtown shootings. RNS photo by Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

This agonizing question arises among religious believers after tragedies great and small. It’s also one that priests, pastors, rabbis and imams will wrestle with.

The Rev. Jerry Smith of St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Nashville said that although this weekend marked the third Sunday in Advent, which focuses on hope in advance of Christmas, the church also has to talk about the reality of evil.

“We have to speak about this shooting and we have to recognize, this is the very darkness that Christ came into the world to dispel,” Smith told The Tennessean.

The Rev. Neill S. Morgan, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Sherman, Texas, says on the congregation’s website that now is a time for prayer.

But, says Morgan, “all the existential questions about God, justice and love” will come. “We wonder what we can do to prevent such violence in the world, our nation and our community.”

The struggle to understand the question of evil run throughout the Bible, and with stories that point from pain in this world to life in the hereafter with God.

Remembrance heart for some of the children who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School

Remembrance heart for some of the children who died on December 14, 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. RNS photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa United Methodist Conference

On social media, people are sharing a passage from Jeremiah 31:15-17:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.

It seems to fit the awful news of the deaths of 20 young children and six of the faculty at the Sandy Hook Elementary.

So do the lessons on theodicy — the question of evil in God’s good world — that are offered after every mass tragedy.

Rick Warren, the California megachurch pastor and best-selling author of the recently reissued best-seller “The Purpose-Driven Life,” addressed it last year on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Evil, the ugly twin of goodness, Warren wrote, is part of God’s “greatest blessing and our worst curse: our capacity to make choices.”

Rather than make humankind into puppets that he could pull by a string, says Warren, God granted free will so that he might be “loved and obeyed by creatures who freely, voluntarily choose to love him and each other. Love is not genuine if there is no other option.”

Many look for an answer in the Bible’s long-suffering Job, who is counseled to trust that God will work it out for the faithful, “which is not necessarily the most satisfying of answers,” writes Texas religion commentator Jeffrey Weiss.

Weiss took the question of evil very personally in an April piece for the website Real Clear Religion. He drew on a eulogy given by Rabbi Jonathan Miller at the funeral of a friend of Weiss’.

Miller did not attempt to explain the senselessness of a fatal illness. Wrote Weiss: “Theodicy, the attempt to rationalize why an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God would allow such pain, is the hardest nut to crack for religions that believe in that sort of deity.”

Instead, Miller shared a little-known Jewish story about how the fear of death should not destroy one’s joy in life.

Memorial of candles, flowers, stuffed animals, and cards for the children and 6 adults who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School

Memorial of candles, flowers, stuffed animals, and cards for the children and 6 adults who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. RNS photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa United Methodist Conference

A great rabbi returns to a disciple in a dream and tells him, “Were the Holy One to say to me, ‘You may return to that world where you were before,’ I would not wish to do it. The fear of death is too great.”

The takeaway Miller wanted was for his listeners not to live in such fear of death that they cannot take the pleasure from living.

“Life is first for the living and not about dying,” Miller said.

(Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for USA Today. Bob Smietana of The Tennessean contributed to this story.)

KRE/DSB END GROSSMAN

  • Jay

    Why so much suffering?

    Do you know why people make the mistake of blaming God for all the suffering in the world? In many cases, they blame Almighty God because they think that he is the real ruler of this world. They do not know a simple but important truth that the Bible teaches. The real ruler of this world is Satan the Devil.
    The Bible clearly states: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) When you think about it, does that not make sense? This world reflects the personality of the invisible spirit creature who is “misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Revelation 12:9) Satan is hateful, deceptive, and cruel. So the world, under his influence, is full of hatred, deceit, and cruelty. That is one reason why there is so much suffering.
    A second reason why there is so much suffering is that, mankind has been imperfect and sinful ever since the rebellion in the garden of Eden. Sinful humans tend to struggle for dominance, and this results in wars, oppression, and suffering. (Ecclesiastes 4:1; 8:9) A third reason for suffering is “time and unforeseen occurrence.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) In a world without Jehovah as a protective Ruler, people may suffer because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Why does God allow it? A vital issue raised.

    When Satan led Adam and Eve into disobeying Jehovah, an important question was raised. Satan did not call into question Jehovah’s power. Even Satan knows that there is no limit to Jehovah’s power. Rather, Satan questioned Jehovah’s right to rule. By calling God a liar who withholds good from his subjects, Satan charged that Jehovah is a bad ruler. (Genesis 3:2-5) Satan implied that mankind would be better off without God’s rulership. This was an attack on Jehovah’s sovereignty, his right to rule.
    Adam and Eve rebelled against Jehovah. In effect, they said: ‘We do not need Jehovah as our Ruler. We can decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.’ How could Jehovah settle that issue? How could he teach all intelligent creatures that the rebels were wrong and that his way truly is best? Someone might say that God should simply have destroyed the rebels and made a fresh start. But Jehovah had stated his purpose to fill the earth with the offspring of Adam and Eve, and he wanted them to live in an earthly paradise. (Genesis 1:28) Jehovah always fulfills his purposes. (Isaiah 55:10, 11) Besides that, getting rid of the rebels in Eden would not have answered the question that had been raised regarding Jehovah’s right to rule.

    God has allowed mankind to determine whether they will CHOOSE His way or their own. As we can see, man’s governments have not been able to bring peace and security. It is VITAL then to come to know the TRUTH about God and his purposes.

  • JCarr

    Give me a break, Jay.

    You just engaged in massive rationalization to somehow reconcile a religious concept with a harsh reality: a belief in a loving, benevolent, merciful god that truly cares about us, yet sits idly by while children have their heads blown off by an automatic weapon in the hands of a troubled individual.

    He’s all-powerful, which means he could have easily stopped this, even reaching into the young man’s mind and fixing the problems there….but he didn’t.

    He’s all-knowing, which means he knew this would happen, ….and yet did nothing to alter circumstances in some manner.

    He’s loving, merciful, and benevolent, truly caring about us, his favored creations. Those of us who love our family and friends know what this type of love means….we’d do anything to help them, such as the teachers who took a bullet for their students in CT, or the young men that shielded their girlfriends in Aurora, sacrificing themselves for their loved ones. So god, since he feels this same love for us, would do anything to help us, especially innocent children that can’t help themselves….and yet he did not.

    Spare us the rationalizations, please. You can try to twist reality to fit your theology, but the simple truth remains: either the god(s) that is there simply doesn’t care enough about humans to intervene, or there is no god(s) at all.

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