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Why We Should Question God In Response To Evil And Tragedy

religious liberty

For those who believe in a good God, responding to tragedies like the Las Vegas shooting is a personal problem, as much as anything else.

After the bodies are counted, the wounded are tended to, and the speeches of unity are made, how do we move forward? This was no normal attack. This was a shocking act of evil. The Port Arthur massacre pales by comparison. In order to fully process this event, the most important step is always emotional and spiritual. That means acknowledging the loss, and disappointment in God. Because the cold truth is that God could have prevented this from taking place. So why didn’t he? Where was he?

Where Is God In The Midst Of Evil?

Events like 9/11, and all the other infamous terrorist attacks of the 21st century, were perpetrated by evil men with evil intent. God could have prevented those from occurring. There is a dark and horrible logic to this kind of violence. If free will is necessary and valuable, then this sort of atrocious evil is a logical consequence. But still, God could have done something. And maybe he did. Maybe he prevented 9/11 from being even worse than it was. Maybe he invisibly intervened and prevented Stephen Paddock from murdering even more people. But why didn’t he do more? Where was he? Why does he hide when we need him most?

The honest believer almost feels like Elijah on Mt. Carmel, mocking the priests of Baal—except here, Elijah’s sarcastic questions are turned on Elayon, the most high God. Was Jehovah going to the bathroom? Was Elohim busy commenting on a blog? Where was the great I Am when the Towers fell? Where was God when the levees broke? Where was El Shaddai when Harvey stalled over Houston? What was the Prince of Peace doing when Paddock began loading his gun? Where was God when those he claimed as his literal ethnic people were ushered into gas chambers? Could he not hear the ones he taught to pray the Shema: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God.” Why must Israel hear when God is allowed to be deaf?

The Christian tradition in particular has devoted much sweat and ink to this perennial issue. And because of this, the logical problem of evil has basically been defeated. Alvin Plantinga essentially sealed its tomb back in the 70s. He simply pointed out that there was an additional unstated premise required to make God’s existence incompatible with evil: there is no sufficient reason for God to allow evil to exist. That alone makes the formal argument invalid, in the sense that its conclusion is based on an unstated premise. But then Plantinga went on to provide a reason that seems sufficient for the allowance of evil: morally significant free will.

Scripture Examines God’s Mystery, Not His Existence

But the surprising thing about the Scriptures is that they never take the logical problem seriously anyway. Because the logical problem moves on God’s existence. The scriptures never question His existence; rather, they question His goodness. This sounds strange to many religious ears. Our modern age is deeply concerned with whether or not God exists, because we essentially adhere to a materialistic worldview.

But the ancient near east acknowledged a hierarchy of elohim, a whole other realm of gods and spirits. Most pre-modern cultures have this on some level. So the question was never whether there were gods, but whether there were any good gods, or any gods that should be worshiped. And ancient Israel is the only ancient culture that claims to have found such an elohim. Or rather, they claim that such an elohim found and created them.

And so the Scriptures continually confront the question of whether or not God is good. Michael Card calls it the doubting of “hesed,” which is Hebrew for “lovingkindness,” in this case God’s lovingkindness. This is essentially the subject matter of the book of Job. Card writes, “Most commentaries say the story of Job is about theodicy, the ‘problem of evil.’ I disagree. The book of Job is really about the problem of God! Or to put it another way, the mystery of God.”

It is sad that our contemporary world has become so shallow that we reduce such profound mysteries to theodicy. The book of Job is not philosophy. It is mysticism. But Biblical mysticism is completely different from any other form. Because there is no peaceful serenity for the true mystic. Biblical mysticism is a holy struggle. This is exactly what Job does. Card puts it like this: “Having refused to let go through his stubborn lament, Job stands before God, broken, bloody, still covered with his detestable, putrefying sores. Having lost everything a person can lose, he now possesses everything!”

Job, Like Us, Seeks to Understand God’s Nature

Job is never in any way depicted as having sinned anywhere in the Scriptures. James portrays him as the model of suffering perseverance (James 5:11). And God does not rebuke or punish him when he shows up at the end. In fact he praises Job as speaking of God correctly (Job 42:7). He also rebukes and punishes Job’s three friends, telling them that he will only forgive their sins if they sacrifice and beseech Job to intercede on their behalf (Job 42:7-9).

In other words, not only is Job sinless, he literally is a type of Christ, the suffering righteous intermediary of God’s forgiveness. The book of Job is essentially summed up with “Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani,” Jesus’ infamous cry of dereliction found in Matthew 27: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

So then why does Job repent? Repentance only implies turning from sin if sin is involved. But Job hasn’t sinned. His repentance is a change in his relationship to God. He realizes his previous image of God was incomplete. Though he was faithful and religious, he had not known God as he does now. His connection to God has deepened, leaving behind the religion of distance and embracing a religion of intimacy.

Anyone who has come to know God more deeply looks back on their old ideas as if they were idols. Maybe those idols were needed at the time, heuristic devices that facilitated knowledge. But once God shows up, the idols fall away. Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Still, no sin is mentioned. Job despises his old self, who he was before truly meeting God. Not because his old self was sinful, but because his old self was incomplete.

Be Like The Writer Of Psalm 88—Express Grief

All those connected to Las Vegas’s horrible shooting should not try to rationalize or make sense of that which is clearly senseless. Do not try to be a good little soldier and just say “he moves in mysterious ways.”

Be like the writer of Psalm 88, and say to God “You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend.” This is the only Psalm of lament that does not end in hope. Which should give us all hope. Because Psalms are prayers. And Psalm 88 tells us to cling to God by doubting him, by removing all pretense of false piety and laying before him all your sorrow and confusion. Because only the one who believes God is good can doubt his goodness.

If witnessing or experiencing these murders doesn’t cause you to be angry with God, then you either believe he isn’t powerful, he isn’t good, or maybe you don’t actually believe he exists. You can’t be mad at someone who you don’t believe is real.

This is the deepest form of worship. Because it is a sign of true relationship and trust in God’s hesed. Zeus and Crom Cruach won’t stand for back talk. They require appeasement. El Shaddai is not threatened by questions, anger, disappointment, or insults. Because they are signs of trust. If you believe that God is powerful and good, then that is why mass murders make no sense. Without God, they make perfect sense.

We Have Been Called To Job’s Journey

Do not listen to the foolish voices that surround you, begging you to despair or buck up. When you get the chance, be sad and be angry. You have been called to Job’s journey. He resisted the simple answers provided by his foolish friends. All Christian sufferers of tragedy (not consequences for irresponsibility, which this clearly was not) are called to do the same. Simple answers are useless. The only true answer is the mystery of God. Michael Card offers this advice:

“Your true friends will be willing to sit with you in silence not for a week, but for as long as it takes. Your real friends will encourage you to keep talking, crying out to, arguing with God. And when you would be tempted to despair and quit the dance floor, saying that you simply lack the strength or the faith to go on, it is only your real friends who will have the love to leave you all alone with the One who desires, above all, to finish the dance with you.”

Faith is not an irrational leap, nor is it fundamentally reasonable. Faith is the business of reality itself. It is the divine dance we call life—only your partner happens to be infinite, and we are finite. When unequal dancers are paired, a struggle ensues. But that’s the only way to grow. Growth is painful. It requires sacrifice and humility. It requires honesty. It requires ugliness. It requires that we stop trying to be “good” and start dancing, living, crying, and screaming with God. It requires prayers like this:

I hate you, God.
Love, Madeleine.
-Madeleine L’Engle