In the wake of the massacre of children in Newtown, CT, today, one might wonder how people believe in a good God. Faith lives in the midst of tragedy only if we have accepted them in the right order.
We carry around a sort of mental “God box,” a collection of theological ideas that we pick up along the course of life’s way. When we are young, we may hear, “Jesus loves me.” We embrace that idea, and that idea goes into our God box. We hear, “God is strong,” and that makes us feel safe, so in it goes. We hear, “God is good,” which only makes sense. Then somewhere along the way we pick up, “Bad things happen,” “Good people suffer,” and “I’m mortal.” Those reluctantly go in too.
Then somewhere along the way we look into our God box and realize we have a disconnected mess of ideas. Some people lose their faith at that moment. My sense is that those who accepted a good, safe, powerful, loving God before they had really suffered are the first to give up.
We may successfully insulate ourselves from a broken world for a season, but eventually we have to face it. And perhaps we should face it first. The world is horribly, terribly broken. God didn’t break it. We broke it in our collective humanity (Gen. 3:6). We break it individually, every one of us (Rom 3:23). We break it daily. And all of the world manifests signs of its brokenness. We are born with signs of the world’s brokenness, down to the level of genetic tendencies towards self-destruction and bio-chemical disorders. We are born into broken and dysfunctional families. And we are subject to the random, hateful brokenness of others.
In the midst of tragedy, God has not abandoned us. God has given us the deepest sign of dignity: the freedom to act out our will, even in horrible ways. He loved us enough to do that. Then God our Father longs to restore us to health. He loved us enough to show us who he was, in Jesus, so that we wouldn’t have to guess at who he is. He loves us enough to work on our hearts when we place them before him. And he loves us enough to hold us when we cry.
Tragedy does not nullify the existence of a good God. It is only a reprise of the crucifixion. And even crucifixion can be subsumed into the story of God.