It’s happened again. Another school shooting, more children and adults lost, more expressions of shock, disbelief and horror. This time it’s small children, little ones who were undoubtedly looking forward to Santa Claus and Christmas presents and perhaps the church Christmas pageant. Loss of life in what seemed to be senseless acts of violence is always shocking and horrifying but somehow having it happen to children at a time of year that is supposed to represent joy and hope is obscene. How can this happen? And how can it keep happening over and over and over? Why is it happening? And why them, and why now?
Those are questions that we ask every time the news tells us of another tragedy. Newtown, New Jersey, is just the latest episode. I just googled “school shootings in the US” and the results were rather overwhelming. Certainly no one could forget Columbine, the Amish school shooting, Virginia Tech, or, if they were old enough, the University of Texas massacre, but there have been many more and we shouldn’t forget any of them. The families can’t forget, but we as a nation shouldn’t forget either. Those horrific events of Friday morning represented multiple lives lost, innocent lives. My mind slips back to images of young Jewish children escaping from their day camp activity at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles, where a gunman began a rampage in a time and place that seemed to be designed for the safety and enjoyment of children’s activities. I remember images of parents outside the Amish school and while I didn’t see their faces, just their postures, it showed the depth of grief and incomprehensibility they surely must have felt. I remember my horror watching media coverage of the shooting at Virginia Tech, a place so close to the college I attended years before, and wondered why it was happening there. Media coverage of students running for their lives from Columbine High School sticks in my mind as do other images over the past several decades. And what do all those images have in common? They show people reacting to stress, fear, horror, disbelief, and even desperation. We witness those scenes from the safety and security of our living rooms and through the distance offered by a glass screen and satellite feed. We can only share in the feelings of those whose images we see wounded and grieving in a very, very limited way. Still, the question remains: why is it happening again? Why these children and why now? In a war, it would be considered collateral damage, but that’s hardly seems a term we want to use about children in a school in the country like the US.
There is a belief that everyone is born for a purpose. Events like Sandy Hook, Columbine, Austin, Los Angeles, and Blacksburg make me stop and wonder if that’s really true. It’s hard to accept that the death of a child at the hands of an assassin hell-bent on revenge or acting out of just plain anger was the result of some grand design to teach us something. For those who use the phrase “It was God’s will” as a way of describing why something happened might use it as a phrase designed to comfort the bereaved but it doesn’t work for me. Did God bring an innocent child into the world for the purpose of its being shot or stabbed or fatally injured by a bomb to teach a lesson or to bring pain to the family, bringing them closer to God, or was that child’s purpose to give joy and completeness to the family? I have a really hard time seeing something like their murder as “God’s will.” I also have trouble seeing it as a work of the devil; I think the devil gets too much credit. The devil is an easy entity to blame when I think it’s really the choice of a human being with no influence from some supernatural power, even though they may think they are doing what they are commanded to do by a higher source.
I believe in God. The God I believe in created a beautiful world and created human beings to live in that world, to care for it and to be companions of God. God could have created robots, creatures programmed for whatever it was that God wanted them to do – worship God, serve God, whatever. God put the element of choice into the very fabric of humanity, and I often wonder if what we do with choice is really what God had in mind in the first place. I can’t believe that an armed adult walks into a school and opened fire was in any way a result of choice as God intended it to be. Nor can I say all this is Eve’s fault or Adam’s fault. God must’ve known people were going to make bad choices, but I guess to God, the risk was worth it. I still have difficulty though, wondering pretty much the same thing everyone else wonders. Where was God in this tragedy? Where was God in all the other similar tragedies? Where was God?
I don’t think my question will ever be answered, not fully or maybe not to my satisfaction. What I’m left with is my feeble human need to try and understand, and to find some redeeming purpose for all this. I don’t see God in the executioner, nor God’s will in the act, even though the shooter was as much a child of God is I am. There’s the problem. As sick as I believe he was, and as evil as I believe his act to be, he was still a child of God. Misguided, angry, whatever his motive might have been, he was still a child of God. I struggled to wrap my mind around it and I know a lot of people won’t understand, but the thought keeps pounding in my brain. He was still a child of God, just as the innocents whose lives he destroyed or damaged were children of God. Whether his act was the result of faulty brain chemistry, raging hormones or all too human feelings of anger and rejection, they were his human choice and not, I’m sure, some part of a divine plan.
Again, I wonder where was God in all of this? Perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing God too much, but my heart tells me that God was beside us with eyes full of tears, heart heavy with grief and a throat too tight to let words escape. Perhaps God’s grief was deeper than any we could possibly experience or imagine, because through the God-given gift of choice this became a possibility. Still, I think God weeps with us and with all those who have lost lives so very precious to them at any time of year but especially at Christmastime.
God became human once and experienced all that humans experience. I don’t think the lesson will have been forgotten. Our challenge is not only to not forget our own lessons, but to find a way to use those lessons for good.
We must, or we will only have more lessons to learn at a much greater cost.