Speaking from the Heart about Newtown
by Lloyd Rang on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 8:24pm ·
Right after the Newtown massacre, Christian pundits rushed to make statements about the tragedy.
Mike Huckabee, a Republican former governor and TV personality said this:
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools … should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and radio show host said this:
“I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.”
And Bryan Fisher, a radio show host and leader of the American Family Association said this: “I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.”
Each of these men believe the murder of 20 six year old children and six teachers was a judgment from God on America for, among other things, not ordering public schools to start the day in prayer.
They don’t really blame the madman who pulled the trigger. No, they say, the real culprits are liberal legislators standing in the way of public school prayer. And, of course, God — who allowed these kids to die to make a political point.
These messages have been shared with me by many friends on Facebook, often with a hearty “Amen” attached to them. But read their words again.
Now, imagine a few things with me:
First, imagine you are standing with the parents of Dylan Hockley, a first-grader killed in Newtown. Or imagine that he was YOUR child — a beautiful boy born just six years ago, who was just learning how to read and who loved Legos and stuffed animals and who was brutally slaughtered along with other little kids in his class. Now, imagine James Dobson approaching you, and saying what he said on the radio to your face.
Second, imagine you are living in present-day England — among most secular places in the Western world. It does not have school prayer. It also does not have school shootings. Now, imagine reading Mike Huckabee’s quote. Does it make sense to you? Better yet, imagine yourself in 14th century England — at that time one of the most Christian places on earth — as the Black Death rolls through. Does it make any more sense now?
Third — and this is tough, I realize — put yourself in God’s place. Read Bryan Fisher’s words again as he talks about God’s motives. Note how he implies God is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent. Note how certain he is of the link between a lack of government-mandated religious observance and God’s wrath. Is this what we believe? Should we really be saying “amen” to all that?
In the days since the shooting, I have been less vexed by the evil of the shooter than I am by the lack of empathy and the theology of vengeance I hear from my fellow Christians. Because while I expect evil in the world, I do not expect to see Christians celebrating it. I am horrified when I hear us gleefully rubbing our hands together and saying: “See? God is finally punishing secular society for turning his back on him!”
We are like Jonah, eager for judgment. But instead of Nineveh we see Newtown. And we project our human motives and lust for punishment onto God. We cherry-pick which things he’s upset about, too. Huckabee and the others don’t see Newtown as a punishment for too many guns, or too much poverty — but because God is not honoured enough by the government, and because children in all schools are not forced to bend the knee.
When we do this, we are not showing empathy or love. It is the kind of thing we can only say if we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of a grieving, heartbroken, shattered mom or dad. And when non-Christians hear such things, they have every right to ask: “Why would I want to serve a God like that? Why would I want to join his church? Why would I associate with such angry, vengeful people?”
I would hope that if you or I met a parent of one of these children today, we would wrap our arms around them, and weep with them.
I hope we would resolve to do everything within our power to build a better, safer world.
That we would cherish our own children all the more. I think we would.
And yet I suspect we would also join them in their questioning of God and their anger.
Because what else is there?
When a loved one loses a fight to cancer and dies too young, we ask “why?”
When the holocaust raged across Europe with its unimaginable evil, people asked “why?” When wars come, and accidents and ruin arrive we ask “why, why, why, oh God?”
So when a tragedy like this strikes, it’s natural to ask “why.”
I don’t know about you, but i have been asking that question a lot lately. These tragedies test my faith. They sicken my soul. I cannot explain them. Not only don’t I understand the heart of God, I don’t even know my own. As scripture tells us “The human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
So when I hear fellow Christians like these three — so certain about God’s motives they feel confident enough to take to the airwaves about it — only two things are possible: Either they are prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah sent from God to speak his heart to us, or they are speaking from their own deceitful, wicked human heart.
And when I imagine them, standing before a parent of Newtown, I know exactly whose heart is doing the talking.