The Sutherland Springs shootings have left a long, deep scrape across the heart of America. Regardless of our spiritual beliefs or lack of them, everyone was deeply and emotionally stunned that such an atrocity could happen within a house of worship on a peaceful Sunday morning.
Inevitably questions arose—where was God in all this? How could God allow 27 believers to be murdered, while they worshipped, by a madman? I heard news anchors ask these questions to a host of Christian leaders and I’m not sure that their questions were answered satisfactorily. In all fairness to the ministers, priests, and other spiritual community leaders this slaughter is not an easy thing to wrap one’s head around. It’s not that the news anchors questions were unfair, it’s just difficult to give satisfactory answers that would appease a grieving society.
As I listened to the religious leaders try and answer the questions I was a bit shocked by how much weaving and dodging took place not to address the elephant in the room—Satan and evil. One well known evangelical leader simply told the story of his conversion, while another talked about the rewards of Heaven. I don’t mean to be critical here, but when large numbers of your family lay dead in their church, Heaven may be a comfort but doesn’t deal with the question of why.
1 Peter 5:8 pulls no punches, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Paul makes no bones about it, Satan, the devil, prowls this world looking to devour and slaughter people.
He uses the image of a roaring lion taken from Psalm 10;
9 “He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent. His eyes watch in secret for his victims; 9. Like a lion in cover he lies in wait. He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength.” (v. 9-10)
Yes, there is a Satan, the father of evil and he is at war with us and looks for any opportunity to harm and destroy us. Satan—is our enemy. Peter also calls for us, who profess Christianity, to be alert and sober minded towards this reality. Yes, I am saying, regardless of the diagnosis of the shooter, that evil was at play in this.
The reality is we live in a sinful and fallen world where bad things happen continually. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” There are numerous places within the New Testament that speak of these powers, authorities, and rulers that war against us. Evil is real and all humanity faces it daily.
We suffer in this world for basically two major reasons, we live in a fallen, evil world where Satan runs around like a wild, crazed lion scheming out new ways to harm us. Also, a secondary result of Satan’s attacks is that we do dumb things that bring suffering. If I get drunk, drive my car down the highway (the wrong way) and slam into another car injuring or killing everyone then they suffer because of sin in the world and I suffer because of my own stupid choices.
Let’s give me that evil is real and Satan desires to destroy us. But that still doesn’t answer the question—why did people at church die? I’m going to say something that a lot of Christians don’t want to hear, but here it is. We do not have a hedge around us because of our faith. Think of Paul and what he went through as a minister of God;
25 “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.” 2 Corinthians 11:25-26
If anyone should have had a hedge of protection around him it was Paul, and yet he suffered. In fact, the word martyr simply means witness. There is such hatred and persecution against Christianity in the world today that more people have been killed for their faith in the last fifty years than in the time of the early church.
Matthew 5:45b puts it this way, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In fact, in Job 1:9-10a Satan accuses Jesus of putting a hedge around Job so that he prospers and has no problems. He says, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?”
Satan’s attack upon Job was an attack upon God. Satan accuses us of only worshipping and loving God because we get something out of it. His reasoning is simple, people worship God not because they love Him but because they want a hedge around their lives so nothing bad every happens to them on this earth and then when they die they go to heaven.
But that’s not how it works. Our love of God is not built upon a hedge to keep us from evil, but the reality that we have faith and love and trust in God through the evil. God never promises us that there won’t be storms in our lives. Christians die of cancer, illness, at the hands of drunk drivers, accidents, and yes, murder, the same as non-Christians. The difference isn’t in the amount or lack of suffering but that we have a strength to pull us through the life-storm. Like Job we trust God when it looks like our entire world is collapsing.
The pastor of Sutherland Springs church summed it up when he spoke to the press about how to make sense of the shooting. “I don’t understand, but I know my God does.”
Some of you might have the idea after reading this post that I believe we are on our own and Satan rides roughshod over us. I don’t believe that for a moment. I believe in prayer, I believe in praying for protection and asking God’s mercy and love to be with me every hour of every day. The point, however, is do we trust God and continue to believe in Him and love Him when bad things happen to us?
Also, we must always remember that God could have stopped His Son from being tortured, beaten, and horrifically murdered on a Roman cross but He didn’t. He understood the greater good that would come through that gory event. Remember, God Himself was there on that cross (Jesus is second person of the Trinity).
No, the people in Sutherland Springs were not bad people or under judgment of God. Remember the little story in Luke 13:4, “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? The answer of course is that the tower fell for some unknown reason, and had anything to do with the goodness or lack of goodness in the workmen.
We live by faith, love, and trust in God and that is what we learn from the evil of this world.