by Jordan McKenzie
As most readers have probably heard by now, the church shooting that occurred yesterday in Sutherland Springs, Texas (just outside of San Antonio) has become the deadliest church shooting in American history. All told, twenty-six people were killed and nearly two dozen more injured. Nearly half of those killed were children, some as young as five years old. They were gunned down as they worshiped inside their church sanctuary, as they did every Sunday morning.
When we hear about events like this, or the shooting in Las Vegas —where hundreds were injured or killed while simply enjoying a concert— we ask why. WHY? Why God? Why would you let this happen?
This is a natural response. All of us ask ourselves this question at some point when we’re witnessing a difficult situation or going through such a situation ourselves. In fact, people have been asking the why question for thousands of years, even back to the time the Old Testament was written. Indeed, entire books, like Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Job, were written in part to address the question of why there is pain and suffering in our world.*****
Yet what we find out in reading these books is that there is no clear answer to this difficult question. Sometimes it seems that God uses difficult events to increase our faith. Sometimes it seems God uses them to bring glory to himself. And sometimes it seems they are the result of humanity’s God-given free will. (Methodists would generally tend to support the view that pain and suffering are primarily a result of human sin.) The challenge is that each of these answers raises additional questions. No one answer provides us an easy, hard-and-fast solution to the problem. Thus the question of why is not an easy one to answer. But there are two things that can help us when we think about this question.
The first thing is this. It’s helpful to always remember that the ways in which God is working in our world are far beyond our understanding. As Isaiah 55:9 says, “his ways our higher than our ways, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” This a central point to remember. We are not God. We cannot even begin to grasp how God is intervening in our daily lives or the lives of others. It is, quite literally, beyond our understanding. So when we ask why we always must have some humility, knowing that we may not be able to totally understand what God is up to.
The second thing that is helpful to remember is this. God is always willing and working for our good. Romans 8:28 says as much, saying that “in all things God is working for our good.” You can’t say it any more simply than that. This again is central to remember. We may not know why God is working the way He is, but we can have faith that no matter the situation, God is working for us out of love and concern. No matter what happens, God’s love for us remains even in the chaos of these events. He will not give up on us.
So, as you watch coverage of the tragedy in Texas and hear of other tragedies, it’s natural to ask why. We could discuss that question all day (and all night!) and not agree on an answer. But no matter what, remember that God works in ways we can’t begin to understand. And even though we can’t understand, we can know that he is working for our good. Let that give you peace today. Amen.
*****Discussion of this question is not limited to Christians. Those in other religious traditions, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and especially Buddhism, all actively discuss the issue of why there is pain and suffering in our world. Thus this is a universal, cross-cultural question.