Last Friday, a monster of a human being took aim at an elementary school in Southwestern Connecticut and stole away the lives of twenty-six people, including twenty children. In the wake of the tragedy, the rest of us are either glued to the news in search of answers or we purposefully avoid it, in an effort to insulate ourselves from an event that has already bled so deep into us we may never be able to look at a teacher the same way again. Maybe it’s because we’re so overwhelmed with shock–so desperate for some semblance of reason–we turn upwards with our thoughts and our hearts and we wonder if He’s there. And if He is, how could He have let this happen?
In January of this year I joined a small group of like-minded women and together we began studying our Bibles. The book of James. After that, we moved on to Daniel and now we’re deep in Esther. By no means do I feel this qualifies me to minister God’s heart to lost, weeping and wondering souls, but when I saw a tweet asking where God was when Newtown, Connecticut fell victim, I felt moved to offer my perspective–small as it might be.
Confession: it wasn’t long ago that I struggled to understand how God could be credited for blessings but spared blame for disaster. If indeed He is the One True God, shouldn’t we credit Him with both the good and the bad? If indeed He is on His throne, wouldn’t turning a blind eye to tragedy make Him a fair-weather God? And if so, is He really someone I want to believe in? To follow?
In my study of Daniel, Beth Moore taught that in the storms of our lives, God is ever-present. This much I already knew; for the Bible told me so. As an eighth grade confirmand I chose a verse meaningful to me and delivered a speech on why. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Only Beth Moore broke it down even further. Her perspective is that–in God–we will always find deliverance from that which plagues us. No matter the outcome, she teaches, we can be assured that God is walking right alongside, hand in hand. She points out that in every trial and tribulation, there are but three possible resolutions and God’s hand is visible in each of them. Relating our life storms to fire, the outcomes must be one of the following:
- God spares us from the fire. Perhaps there is a lump that requires a biopsy. The doctors aren’t optimistic, saying that the characteristics of this specific tissue all but spell out cancer. They do the biopsy and lo and behold, it comes back benign. In that instance, God has spared us from the fire, completely covering us in grace and mercy and circumventing us the journey.
- God walks us through the fire. In this instance, those cells do indeed come back malignant. And we seek treatment and suffer through chemo and radiation and all the side effects that come with them. The poison that battles those cancerous cells raids our bodies and in turn we lose weight and we lose sleep and we lose our hair but we don’t lose faith. Through it all we draw closer to God–closer than we ever thought possible–and in the end we come out stronger for having endured it. God takes us by the hand and walks us straight through that fire and He leads us safely to the other side.
- God delivers us by the fire. One thing we can be assured of is that we won’t live forever in our earthly bodies. There will–undoubtedly–come a time for us to go home. And when that time comes–even as those flames overtake us–we can close our eyes and know with certainty that the pain is only momentary, but His love is everlasting. We will be delivered. Straight to His arms.
The fingerprints on that gun don’t belong to God; they belong to an evil man born of this world. I would guess that eventually that gun will be destroyed and with it will go the last pieces of a monster of a human being. But God’s mark will go on. His people will descend upon this tragedy and shower all that we can not only onto those Connecticut survivors, but onto the teachers in our own communities. Onto the school-aged children in our neighborhoods and maybe even random strangers we meet in passing. Tragedies like these bring us together and give renewed life to goodwill.
If you are one of those people left wondering where God was last Friday, this much I know: God is good. He is love. He did not send that gunman into that school last Friday. But you can bet He was there when the gunman showed up. He piggybacked those children–joyful and at peace–right through the pearly gates of His kingdom. And though we’re left here wondering how someone could and why someone would–He is already at work in this tragedy, using it for His good. The Bible does not promise us a life of ease; we can be assured that in our earthly lives we will face heartache of one kind or another. But when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, so too can we be assured of a happy ending, on the other side of the flames.
My prayer for all those touched by the Newtown tragedy is that–in Him–they would find a peace beyond all human understanding. That He would wrap them in His loving arms and with His very breath their souls would be soothed. That He would work this unspeakable pain into fruits of His unending love. That as they tread through these days and weeks and months and years of unthinkable despair, He would comfort and console. That He will heal their hearts and restore their lives.
I was in my car on Friday when I heard about the shooting. When the details came over the radio waves my tears fell in earnest over the steering wheel and into my lap. And–like everyone else–my heart broke. But as I drove home that afternoon, I rounded a corner and evidence of God’s promise stared me in the face.
I don’t know how God will use this tragedy for His good. But I know He will. And until His kingdom comes, that will have to be enough.