Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
– Matthew 2: 16-18
A year ago, on Dec. 14, 2012, Americans were transported into hell by news reports of the slaughter of 20 beautiful, shiny-faced children, age 6 and 7, in Newtown, Conn. All were shot to death, along with six heroic women, by a young man in the grip of exceedingly dark forces.
We learned that Adam Lanza, age 20, had shot his own mother in the head four times before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School and, in just a few minutes’ time, massacred 26 people, then shot himself in the head as soon as police arrived.
No words exist to describe either the horror of the crime or our sorrow over the loss of those innocent lives. Indeed, even a year later, it’s almost impossible to gaze at the photos of the Sandy Hook victims without being deeply moved.
For atheists, the Sandy Hook mass shooting, one of the worst in U.S. history, was just one more exhibit in their prosecutorial case against the existence of God.
Indeed, atheism’s main argument is: “If an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God existed, he couldn’t possibly allow such horrible tragedies to occur – therefore, God does not exist.”
Even for the faithful, the question of “why?” intrudes into our minds at times of great tragedy.
Although countless people have, of course, grappled with this problem over the millennia, its mystery remains. Even Rev. Billy Graham, addressing a mourning nation at the memorial service in Washington’s National Cathedral right after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, acknowledged the seemingly impenetrable nature of the question:
“I have been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering.”
While great crimes and genocides invite the question, it is often personal tragedy that prompts people to take a stab at explaining it.
The new documentary film “Unstoppable” – which poses the question front and center, “Where is God in the Midst of Tragedy and Suffering?” – was written and hosted by actor Kirk Cameron, who says he conceived the project after the cancer death of a 15-year-old friend. Likewise, the classic 1978 best-seller “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner was inspired by (and dedicated to) Kushner’s son, Aaron, who suffered from a rare and incurable genetic condition called Progeria, whose symptoms resemble extremely rapid aging. Aaron died at 14.
On the scale of human suffering, I would say my own lot has not been bad – more than some, much less than others. Like Rabbi Kushner, I, too, have had a child born with a rare, genetic, severe and incurable condition. It’s painful even to think about. And yet, just like all the other problems I’ve had in my life, it has somehow contributed to who and what I am. It humbled me and perhaps made me more compassionate. And that’s a good thing.
Life has a way of driving us to the very edge of our capacity to deal with difficulties. But then, isn’t that’s also how we develop character? After all, we don’t particularly enjoy watching movies or reading books about people who live a normal, boring life. To the contrary, we love stories about people who endure adversity, hardship, injustice, betrayal, tragedy – and who somehow not only survive, but triumph.
But now, let’s get to the most difficult issue – the slaughter of innocent children. Personally, even though I trend more philosophical than some of my fellow journalists, I tread lightly on hallowed ground: How can anyone really explain why God permits a crime like the Sandy Hook school shooting (or 9/11, or the Holocaust, or Stalin’s intentional starvation of 7 million men, women and children in the Ukraine, or the Armenian Genocide, which took the life of my grandfather and dozens of other family members, and scarred my father for life)?
At the very least, let’s set aside the atheists’ argument. Their attempt at logic (“I don’t believe in God because he wouldn’t allow horrors like Sandy Hook, Katrina, or Sarin gas attacks on kids in Syria”) is just another way of saying: “If I were God, I would do things differently.” Which is to say, “I would be a better and more just and loving God than God is.” All they are doing is judging God and supposing themselves to be morally superior to the Creator of the Universe.
As my children used to say when they were small, “That’s stupid!”
The ancient biblical Book of Job, which deals directly with this issue of “bad things happening to good people,” is illuminating. Here’s how it begins:
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”
Yet as the story unfolds, the righteous Job soon loses his family, his property, his livestock, everything. Every conceivable misfortune, other than his own death, overtakes Job – and what’s more, God permits it.
For the next 37 chapters, Job and his sympathetic friends sit around and prattle on and on philosophically about Job’s suffering, and about what they imagine to be the reasons for it, what Job must have done to bring it on, how God must think, how He must reward the righteous and punish sinners, and so on.
Finally, beginning in chapter 38, God responds so as to set all things straight and to dramatically remind Job and his friends – and us – Who is God and who is not:
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?
9 When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,
10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors
11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?
12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place;
13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it?
14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.
15 And from the wicked their light is withholden, and the high arm shall be broken.
16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?
17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.
19 Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,
20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?
21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born? or because the number of thy days is great?
22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,
23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?
24 By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder;
26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man;
27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?
28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?
29 Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?
30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.
31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?
34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?
35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are?
36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,
38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?
39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,
40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?
41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat. …
And that’s just the beginning, as God’s response to Job continues in this same vein for three more chapters, testifying to the Almighty’s infinite power, wisdom and goodness, and reminding Job’s friends Who it is they have been second-guessing. Job remains humble and self-effacing throughout.
At the end of the narrative, in light of Job’s continued trust in God despite his difficult personal circumstances (remember, Satan had counted on misfortune turning Job against God), the Almighty restores everything Job had in the beginning, and twofold at that!
Well, you might say, that’s fine for Bible stories, but what about the real world? What about the Sandy Hook children? What was “restored” to them?
I’d like to think those children – and the brave school staffers who died trying to protect them – are in Heaven. And I’d like to think that particular tragedy, as tragedies often do, brought the best out of many people, perhaps even playing some hidden part in their own redemption. But beyond that basic sense of (and desire for) ultimate justice – and acknowledging that there are many profoundly meaningful and valuable things that can and should be said about suffering and loss – in the end, we must arrive at two simple truths:
One, God is good. Always. And two, there are certain things we just cannot – and perhaps are not meant to – understand. It is a mysterium magnum, a great mystery our finite minds cannot penetrate, any more than we can comprehend how God creates and sustains the cosmic clockwork of an expanding universe, or causes a tiny seed to grow into a mighty tree. Or uses adversity, suffering and even tragedy to draw His own closer to Him.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
The preceding is the introduction to the December 2013 issue of Whistleblower, WND’s acclaimed monthly magazine edited by David Kupelian. Find out more about Whistleblower.
View a quick video trailer of Kupelian talking about Whistleblower: