On God, Shooting Children, and Having No Answers

Who cares what I think about all this. I’m not really sure if I care what I think about all this.

I didn’t sleep well last night and I woke up sad and unsettled. For some reason, killing these 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut yesterday burrowed deep into my heart and has decided to stay put for a while.

What kind of a God would let…..

This sort of thing happens all the time. We all know that. In recent months the news has been full of these “stories.”

But it’s actually far worse. Violence against innocents–whether at the hand of individuals, groups, tribes, or nations–is as old as recorded time. Violence and the drama of human history go hand in hand.

And people have been asking, in one way or another, “Uh, excuse, me, God?” ever since learned scribes began writing about God/the gods on rock, clay, animal skin, and papyrus.

What kind of a God would….    Indeed. In my opinion, this is the grand struggle of any faith in God, a higher power, whatever.

It’s an age old question that no one can solve, but that every college philosophy student and seminarian has to take a deep look at: If God is all loving and all powerful, why do things like this happen? Why does God let them happen? Why doesn’t he do something–now, right here?

Good questions.

Well, like I said, who cares what I think. But these moments test one’s faith more than most. And it makes other “challenges to our faith,” like whether there was a historical Adam or whether the Bible was written after the return from Babylonian exile, look like a splash in a shallow puddle compared to the deep, black, ocean storm of 5 year olds getting shot because they went to school one day.

I can easily get my arms around a God whose book begins with a mythic story of a naked first couple holding a conversation with a serpent, or a Bible that wasn’t written until the 5th century BC. But yesterday? There is nothing “easy” about it.

This is going to sound like advice, but it’s not. Neither is it an answer. But, at times like this three disconnected thoughts come to my mind.

(1) There are many wonderful and beautiful things about the world we live in, but things are also seriously and undeniably [feel free to use the predicate adjective of your choice].

(2) If you believe in God, there will always come a point–and sooner than we tend to think–where our understanding hits a wall at 80 mph.

(3) The way of sorrow and pain is built into the Christian story, particularly the suffering of innocents: the Gospel claims that God himself took part in suffering and death.

Anyway, I’m still unsettled, and sad, and I don’t really feel like editing the next chapter in a book where I have to act like I understand God better than I really do.

  • http://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com Jim

    Well said Peter, and I’m in absolute agreement, and exactly the same state.

    • JB

      Peter, are you also unsettled about the Million babies murdered in the womb by murderous mothers every year?

  • Terry

    I get it completely Pete, and appreciate your honesty. I’ll pray for your need to edit.

  • http://www.thinkhardthinkwell.com Benj

    God sees. Does that make things better or worse?

    “See, O LORD, and look! With whom have You dealt thus?
    Should women eat their offspring, The little ones who were born healthy?
    Should priest and prophet be slain In the sanctuary of the Lord?

    On the ground in the streets Lie young and old;
    My virgins and my young men Have fallen by the sword.
    You have slain them in the day of Your anger, You have slaughtered, not sparing.

    You called as in the day of an appointed feast My terrors on every side;
    And there was no one who escaped or survived In the day of the LORD’S anger.
    Those whom I bore and reared, My enemy annihilated them.”

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  • Eric Kunkel

    Jim, maybe yes, if you mean that you are in the same geographic State.

    I think there is mourning the evil and loss. And then there is secondary and tertiary hand -wringing, which I think is driven by the 24 second news cycle: As if we have to close the case right away, like they do in an hour on TV crime drama. I heard the BBC and Huckabee both do a very poor job. Not a quantum of solace there.

    And the many millions of parents a thousand miles distant who “do not know how to explain this to their children”: I am not for Big Government, but it I think that the disorientation is an a priori for Child Protective Services to take a look at their fitness for parenting.

    Either that, or there is something else, beyond the news cycle that is very wrong with our culture. There is la belle indifference, when something really bad is pathologically ignored, usually by neurological damage. This is the opposite of that.

    The spokesperson for the CT State Police said it best at the last news conference for the day last evening. They will say more when they know more. We know very little yet.

    Certainly, we know nothing yet that should have us re-examining our laws, let alone our theodicy.

    Eric Kunkel

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  • Jim

    I don’t feel like there are any satisfactory answers as to why God allows suffering. In this regard, the Bible appears to be quite ineffectual IMO. Maybe cultures in antiquity held a very different view of suffering than we do today, making these documents less applicable to current tragedies. In any case, I am also depressed over yesterday’s events and the traditional Christian platitudes just don’t cut it anymore. Feeling totally helpless in a season when peace on earth is the theme.

  • Stu

    I appreciate you putting your “unsettled” thoughts into words. I have had a lump in my throat all morning and cannot even talk about it without getting choked up or angry. Why? Why?

    Your unconnected thought #1 remined me of what Mr Rogers said about how to talk to children about this; “look for all the helpers”. It works for me too-I mean it helps.

    Thanks again. HOSANNA!

  • Eric Kunkel

    I disagree strongly that there are no answers. Just that there are no complete answers, sometimes ever. Such is the human condition. But today is a day of mourning: Surely “there is time to mourn…to weep ….”
    I think the Byrds got that line from some more traditional text.


    • peteenns

      Yes, from a profound misreading of Ecclesiastes…..

  • Matt

    To piggy back on some of the things you said, Pete: when I was a pastor (I’m now a doctoral student in Early Judaism) I was having coffee with someone from my congregation who was/is a foster mom. She told me horror stories about her foster children and the monsters her kids had for biological parents and some of the stuff they went through. I don’t usually have “experiences” like this, but within the span of a few seconds I felt the following: I don’t want to believe in God, and I want to give up on ministry and faith because this world is such a hell hole. But as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I believe the Holy Spirit countered with this: I serve a God you entered this broken world and calls me to help people and to be his hands and feet.
    Yesterday, I had one of those “give up” moments, but was quickly reminded again that Jesus did not give up — and he’ll give us the strength not to give up either.

    May God bless the people of that town. I’ve said this to you before, but thank you for your work and the blog.

  • rvs

    “Fracked up.” And thank you for the reminder in point #3.

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com craigvick

    I care what you think. It helps me to weep with others.

  • Eric Kunkel

    Jim, I think it is pretty anachronistic to think that people had a different view of senseless slaughter than we do today. Joshua Lichter posted on his FB page the prayer commemorating King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. That is by the way, a much more sensible first reaction than the one we saw. Whether you are a believer or not, it was a time of reflection until we have the facts. Maybe just late today we are getting some. It was not a time for politicking and bombast like I heard and saw.

    Of course you had other cataclysms back then – Mt Vesuvious killing thousands in an instant. And it was a much more lawless time, when invading armies would scour away civilians into slavery in barbaric ways.

    Of course today we have youtubes of carnage posted rapidly. That is different. But to feel that people were simpletons then is a form of “chronological snobbery”, in CS Lewis’ words -

  • http://www.edward-t-babinski@blogspot.com Ed Babinski

    Such tragedies remind me of the fact that a smaller number of suffering people seems to move us more than enormous numbers, such as all the starving children round the world, and those dying of diseases as well.

    And I am reminded of all the people including children who died in a tsunami a few years back, or all the children killed during that earthquake in China when the roofs of their homes and schools collapsed.

    I also think about something I read in a science magazine, about how the first humans to settle in north america may have been wiped out by an asteroid that struck the north american continent about 10,000 years ago.

    And I think back further to all the cousin species and cousins of cousin species that arose only to become extinct, from lemur species, to monkey species, to early apes, to apes with larger cranial capacities than living species of apes, to different species of humans that also became extinct, leaving only the modern day species of human.

    And I think of how our own modern civilization and our species might perish en masse, or at least be driven from civilization to barbarism by acts of nature or by our own acts.

  • Rob

    I read this and found the story and comments powerful and from the heart. Whilst not a U.S citizen o follow what happens and from where I sit I see a country that needs God more then ever. But I also see a country who’s politicians seem to push God away. Praying, teaching about God and just about anything to do with God is being removed. God respects our free will. Holiday trees are the latest I’ve heard and while it sounds small and trivial it’s representative of the changes in public life and how we in the west have pushed Him out of our lives and affairs.

  • Evelyn

    If God didn’t make the world, he’s not ultimately responsible for the evil and suffering in it – but it doesn’t stop him loving the world with a fierce and self-sacrificing love. I am well aware that’s not the orthodox position – but I haven’t worked out how else we can square the circle.

  • http://leemeadows.blogspot.com/ Lee Meadows

    This helped me. Thank you. I work with future teachers, and your words have helped me begin to phrase what I need to say to them. “Unsettled” was what I resonated with most, and yet I realize I have now a moment to speak into the hearts and lives of the teachers I’ve worked with this semester, though my thoughts are unsettled and fragmented.

  • http://whiterabbitthoughts.wordpress.com DuJour

    Incredible, admirable honesty. Huge thanks, and a plea that you keep on trucking. Whatever you think your blog is doing, one thing it achieves is this: it makes space to say “this isn’t easy and it isn’t ok – and that’s ok” – and those spaces are very rare.

  • AJG

    I remember reading the Brothers K in college and thinking a lot of these same thoughts when Ivan confronts Alyosha about cruelty to children being evidence for the non-existence of God. Dostoevsky’s chapters that follow attempt to answer this with evidence FOR God, but they don’t ever really meet the bar. This is THE problem for any theist claiming God is both all-good and all-powerful, and I’m convinced it will never be resolved.

  • Derek

    I agree with what Mr. Babinski has said. Therefore, as horrific as this tragedy was, it really doesn’t shake my foundations all that much – especially when I see it in light of the fallen world we live in.

    If the Bible promised us a life free from these sorts of things then we Christian’s would really have a problem on our hands. However, the Bible pretty much promises us all a life of grief and suffering, despite the fact that God is in control, and as hard as it is at times (like now) we need to come to terms with that.

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  • Larry S

    Reading your point number one was the only thing I’ve read this wknd in response to the shootingion Christian blogs that began to get close to an honest response, I grunted in a laugh, my adj. was not at all a word used in polite Christian society.

    My faith forces me to add a #4 to your list . Yes as per #1 things are thourally f___ed, but I cling to the notion of hope. I saw that hope in the eyes of my 4 yr old granddaughter as she sang, jumped and clapped at the kid’s Xmas program in church this morning – singing about the birth of baby Jesus. I cling to hope.

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  • Doc Mike

    In our arrogance, we American Christians feel as though evil should not touch us. That we should be immune to the incomprehensible and incurable virus of violence.

    Sadly, our culture – and every culture – is permeated with sin. To try to make sense of sin is to go on a fool’s errand, one which will only cause us to come up with the wrong answers to the wrong questions. Sin is evil; evil is sin.

    I am hardly complacent with this type of thing: it grieves me deeply. But it does not disturb my theology: I’ve gotten to the point that I no longer blame God for the evil we inflict on one another, no longer believe that God will force the will of individuals, and no longer believe that God micromanages the universe.

    I’ve been irritable and angry all morning. I know why; it doesn’t help. But I’m not angry or confused by God. Or even people.

    And now I read Mt 2.18 with a heavier heart: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.”


  • http://thebookofdavis.blogspot.com/ Michael Davis

    Well said, Peter.

  • Susan Burns

    It is time for fundamentalist Christians to STOP scaring our children. The world will not end soon. There will not be tribulation until Jesus raptures the chosen few. Some children cannot overcome the anxiety this fear produces. They grow up and think they need to hoard weapons for the coming apocalypse. The more anxiety they feel the more weapons thy hoard. It will take a generation to alleviate the anxiety caused by this neurosis even if you stop it today. STOP SCARING OUR KIDS!!!!!

    • http://existingbetween.wordpress.com/ Joy F

      Yeah, that is a huge problem – and it seems to hit the super-fundamentalists way more than others. I remember as a kid, there was this man in our church that was constantly “prophesying” about doomsday coming. He had a bunker, six foot high fence with barbed wire at the top and was stockpiling goods and weapons. About half the church took him seriously and the other half thought he was nuts. But what he described terrifying to listen to as a kid. I remember thinking wow – I see why his own kids don’t listen to him.

  • theologyarchaeology

    You should read my article Where Was God, it has been submitted for publication and it answers your questions. Briefly, How do you know God didn’t take steps to avert this action? Is it His fault people didn’t listen to His warnings and instructions?
    Then, why would God use a miracle to stop this from happening when people would not give God the credit or know that He did it?
    Then, why would God stop sin from happening just because children are involved? Where in the Bible does it say that they get immunity from being a victim? Sin will happen to all ages and children are not as innocent as you want to think. People need to get off of this fad of putting children on pedestals and worshipping them.
    God has warned people in the Bible about sin and how wrong it is yet people still do not listen why do you expect God to change the rules of life just because american children are victims? Then why would God intervene when people do not believe He exists and claim His word is wrong?
    Did you ever stop to think that those parents did not ask God to protect their child?

    STOP BLAMING GOD for the sins of those who reject HIS WORD and plan of salvation.

    • peteenns

      Forgive me, but this sounds just plain sick.

      • Klasie Kraalogies

        I agree Pete. Frankly, the god that will punish/kill people/their children because they omitted to ask him for protection is some ghastly deity that boggles the mind. Also, that deity does not resemble Christ.

        • Derek

          Hi Klasie,

          How do you feel about Christ treading the winepress of God’s wrath whilst His white robe is stained red from the juice (blood) of His enemies?

          • Klasie Kraalogies

            1. Who is Christ’s enemies?
            2. Are you suggesting that not asking for protection automatically makes one God’s enemy? Which would imply a theology of absolute perfection (other than imputed righteousness) otherwise damnation. Which equates to pelagianism, that is, heresy?

    • Doc Mike

      More and more I think that psychology determines theology; it should be the other way around.

      But disturbed people have disturbed theology, immature people yield immature theology, and narcissistic people build a narcissistic theology.

      I was going to say something about us older people and our theologies, but I can’t remember what I was going to say . . .

      • peteenns

        Good one :-)

        Actually, I’m not sure there is a “theology” that stands alone, apart from psychology and sociology.

        • Derek

          I actually think there is a unified theology because of the Spirit-inspired authors. I also think that the elect (Christ’s sheep) also are illuminated by the Spirit to see this in the Scriptures.

      • http://www.rethinkingao.com Mike Beidler

        Well said, Doc!

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  • James

    Just think if God did not exist. If that were the case the only purpose in life would be to survive. If survival were the main purpose then power would be your virtue. If that was the case the killer would have every justification he would need to kill. For he has every reason to be selfish. There would be no reason to love one another. You can say to be civilized but what for. If this was your only time to shine why care about the past or future. A person would have no reason to preserve, conserve or create. Everyone would try to create their own utopia and those with the most power would be the easiest to obtain theirs. We would have a mob like society, which is a society where you only love those who give you what you want and destroy everyone else. This is the absence of love. This is the absence of God and the work of the devil. Our argument should be directed towards human nature for it is selfish. What God gives us is a better understanding of life and above all to love one another. We remove God from public life and we are shocked when people do not show love. They argue religion without knowing its true gift, which is love. If anyone displays anything else it is their human nature telling themselves that they will use the power of God to justify their actions or way of thinking. So I guess what I am saying is continue to love one another,that is the one commandment that was given to us by Jesus. If you dont love as the Lord ask of us, then you might as well be the killer serving your selfish self for that would make perfect sense.

    • Beau Quilter


      Your very first premise makes no sense, so that the rest of your argument is a house of cards. Why do you think that “if God did not exist”, “the only purpose in life would be to survive.” I can’t think of one atheist who believes this. Do you say this because survival is the driving force of evolution? Just because survival is a force of scientific theory does not make survival the “purpose” of thinking, feeling humans. You might as well say that if the theory of gravity is true, our only purpose is to fall.

  • Beau Quilter

    I am as aghast and heart-sick over this tragedy as anyone. But I do think that Christians can be too easily prone to “give up” on such events as “evil” or “sin” or worse “God’s wrath”, when it is vitally important to understand what happened on every level and try to prevent it in the future. Our understanding will be imperfect, and it may take generations of time to correct; but simply leaving this in God’s hands or ascribing it to Satan accomplishes nothing. We can do something. We are not powerless.

  • Mark

    What does your God look like, does he look like Jesus? Or, like a loving father, which is what Jesus called him? What did Jesus really mean? The story of the Tower of Siloam in Luke 13:4 tells of a group of eighteen worshipers who were killed in the middle of worship when the temple collapsed. Jesus’ disciples ask him essentially “What did they do wrong? How could this happen?” Jesus never tells them a story designed to make them feel good, “They’re up in heaven where there is no more suffering”. They lived in the middle of a war zone, suffering was normal, and they understood that the Kingdom of God was more than simple answers to difficult questions. Because we are wealthy and seldom suffer, when we do, our world collapses into intellectual chaos. For others who live daily in the middle of war zones, human atrocities may be their version of normal. A more careful study of the character of God as revealed in scripture might be in order. Having said that, God bless these people and their families, and may the Lord’s people, who are “His body” react with love and mercy.

  • vickie

    Where was God? Does God really care? All very familiar questions that are being asked today and yes for the past 6,000 years. I am reminded of when Lazarus a friend of Jesus had died. Jesus stood outside his tomb and weep…it was a mournful, sorrowful weeping. Jesus was grieving that day but not necessarily for Lazarus for He was going to raise him from the dead. I believe that Jesus was weeping for you and me. Weeping because of all that pain, sorry and suffering that we have had over these many many years. Our disobedience in the garden was not His will for us….not His plan for us. But it happened. It didn’t surprise Him for even then He had a plan for us to right our relationship back again with Him…to restore the relationship when man walked with God. You see God is a holy God…one who demands that you meet His standard and that standard is perfection. He is holy and cannot allow sin in His presence. But you know He knew that we couldn’t meet that standard of perfection and so HE sent His Son, His only Begotten Jesus Christ….God born in the flesh to come down and walk on this earth. Jesus came to die for you and for me. And He rose again. So you see we can have hope for one day He will come back to reign on this earth…then the world will be turned right side up for in after the garden of Eden, the world was turned upside down. Oh, how I love the verse in Revelation that says….He will wipe away every tear. It is His gift…the gift of salvation that HE gives to us but we must receive it and the only thing that we can bring Him is our sins. And He takes those sins and cast them into the deepest sea ….as Corrie ten Boom says “He puts up a sign that no fishing is allowed” The world has and is suffering the consequences of sin in the garden…the heart of man is the problem here on this earth not God. HE has made a way for us…we have choice to receive or reject.

  • Randy

    “Who cares what I think about all this.”

    Then why are you writing the article? You obviously want someone to care what you think, or you would not have written it.

    “It’s an age old question that no one can solve, but that every college philosophy student and seminarian has to take a deep look at: If God is all loving and all powerful, why do things like this happen? Why does God let them happen? Why doesn’t he do something–now, right here?”

    Actually, you are laying the blame at the wrong, if I may, individual. God is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, but He has given man a free will. He could had stopped it, but would have had to over rule man’s free will as a free moral agent. So, it’s not God’s fault that there is death and violence in the world; it’s man’s fault, because we rebelled against our Creator. We have to recognize that we live in a fallen sin-cursed world. So the evil we experience is really our fault because of our sin in Adam, which is one of the reasons we should be so burdened to help others.
    And, yes, my heart is saddened by what happened, and I am definitely not making light of it; however, why not write an article on why your heart is saddened by all the drunk drivers on the roads that kill thousands of innocent people every year. I am thankful God has done something about it. He sent His Son to die for our sins (which those sins came by a historical Adam, according to Genesis and Romans), so that we could live forever with Him in heaven, free from all pain and suffering.

    “I can easily get my arms around a God whose book begins with a mythic story of a naked first couple holding a conversation with a serpent,”

    I would like one reason where you get that the first few chapters are mythical. Certainly not a verse from the Bible. So, if there are supposedly mythical, is all of Genesis mythical or figuratively? And if so, where does it change back to being historical: when Abraham shows up, or Jacob, or maybe it doesn’t change to historical until the life of Joseph? Because, once you reject a literal Fall, you really do have no answers. You have no way to explain the evil in this world and no hope for the future. That is why we should not compromise God’s Word, whether in Genesis or anywhere else in the Scriptures.

  • Scott Fowler

    Wow! Not sure why yu wrote this article. Was it just to confirm that it is all hopeless? Was it a sideways glance at a serious problem just for the chance to take another dig at creationism? Not sure who your audience (I read it on Facebook) but I hope it wasn’t the general non-Christian public because if it was you justdemo strated how empty the neo-evangelical response is to real world problems whichis what happens when you begin to embrace a bottom-up, non-Scriptural view of life. Moral of the story? Don’t. Christians what to do, they don’t know either.

  • Marlene

    I’m with you on this Peter. I have been feeling this way since the shock of this shooting happened.

  • Rich

    God did last week exactly as he did when Cane killed Abel…and yes, Cane and Abel were real people. You seem to not care about the authority of scripture just so you can fit in human reasoning. You believe in evolution, thus Abraham did not exist? He lived 175 years, and people before him for 900+ years… that is evolution? We are devolving, all because of sin…and this world let’s us see sin at its worse, no matter if children or adults. Remember we all deserve death, from a 1 year old to a 90 year old, and 90 years is young compared to 970 year-old Noah, or even to eternity…

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  • Matthew Landis

    Thanks for the article. It was, as others have pointed out, a very honest and thought-provoking one.

    The tragedy was horrible, but I find that some of the more orthodox replies here border on the horrible, as well. I feel as if the shades of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu have returned with a vengeance, with ears even deafer, voices even louder and intentions even more misguided. A large part of me finds myself hoping that their own hope in a “redeemer” is answered by Ezekiel’s comments on Job’s intercessory powers rather than Job’s intercession for them in the epilogue of the actual book of Job when God determined that “Job, my servant, will pray for you, for I will accept him, so that I may not do anything rash to you; for you have not told truth of me, as did Job, my servant” (Pope, AB). That’s a bit horrible on my own part, I suppose, but I am reading comments from some who still only see a “patient Job” and skip all that supposedly “boring” poetry (except to misquote that favorite verse of supposed Christological foreshadowing).

    I don’t know. It’s like some believers get some sort of psychic or spiritual vamipirism/superiority effect when tragedy happens to whoever they consider “THEM”, or from attributing the tragedy to the actions of “THEM” failing to be the same believer they are.