Five days have passed since we awakened to the reality of mass murder in Aurora, Colorado. We know the facts all too well – lone 24-year-old gunman opens fire in midnight showing of the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”, killing 12 and wounding 59. On Saturday I sat in silent reverie as Facebook pages of smiling, young, filled-with-hope faces of the victims rolled over the television screen one after the other. Someone’s daughter. Someone’s son. The love of someone’s life.
Numerous questions flooded my mind, but one will not let me go. One that is often unspoken, yet is on our lips and in our hearts. Where is God in the midst of such unexplained, senseless tragedy?
Throughout Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament time and again we are told of God’s almightiness. Christians throughout the world regularly recite the Nicene Creed saying, “We believe in God, the Father Almighty.” Many people believe in their heart of hearts that God, or the Divine Creator, or Higher Power is indeed almighty. God can protect us and our loved ones from harm. God will somehow make it all come out the way we want.
When tragedy strikes whether on a global, national, or an individual basis, this illusion of God’s almightiness can die a painful death. And the questions pile up: How could God let this happen? Why has God deserted me, or us? Behind these questions is often much pain and a conception that our Creator’s almightiness means that God is an all-powerful, all-controlling puppeteer. God is reduced to superman or superwoman who can swoop down and save us before tragedy strikes.
Yet our Creator’s almightiness is far from this 21st century view. In God’s kingdom, God’s power derives from the willingness to give up power rather than harbor it. In the act of creating human beings with free will, God willingly gave up the ability to indeed be almighty.
Our Creator loved us enough to give us free will, to let us make our own choices. There is no puppeteer in the ethereal realm. When those whom God created, you and me and our neighbors near or far, use that free will to destroy, maim, kill, or wound others in any way, God weeps. Yes, God weeps. God suffers with us. Over and over again in Scripture we are told that God suffers because of us, with us, and for us.
Where is God? Weeping with those who weep, mourning with those who mourn. “Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer…I drench you with my tears,” the Lord tells us in the Book of Isaiah.
Where is God? In the tears of the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers. Where is God? In the deep sadness that you and I feel when we are witness to such senseless suffering and tragedy.
Where was God in the movie theater that night? In the love of the boy who died protecting his girlfriend. In the emergency personnel who lovingly cared for and cried with the wounded. In the broken, dying body of each person who was shot – those who were killed and those who will never forget the screams and cries and searing pain.
The attempt to reconcile an all-loving, all-powerful God with senseless tragedy or evil in the world is not new. It’s called ‘theodicy’ which was written about and debated intensely after the Jewish Holocaust of WWII. In his book, Night, Elie Wiesel says it far better than I.
During his time in Auschwitz, he was forced to watch the hanging of two adult men and a cherub-faced, angelic looking young Jewish boy. The agony of that day has never left him, nor the questions raised and answered in that horrific moment. He writes:
Behind me, I heard the same man asking [again]: “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows…”
God was there on that day and on many others throughout our history. The all-powerful, cry. The almighty, weep.