Fourteen people are dead and many, many more injured in Aurora, Colorado in what makes the fifth mass shooting by an American on U.S soil in thirteen years:
- gunman kills seven at Oikos University in Oakland, California.
- six dead in from gunfire in the Tucson, Arizona massacre that injured congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
- extremist kills twelve at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas.
- thirty-two dead from gunfire on the Virginia Tech campus.
In reality these are only a few of the incidents of mass violence in recent memory.
As Christians we watch such horror unfold, looking on helplessly, wondering what we can do in the midst of such tragedy, and asking what was God's purpose in allowing such evil to transpire.
Thankfully, God is not silent on the issue of suffering, evil, choice, and our final hope, so we would be remiss to neglect the word of God when tragedy strikes.
I'd like to put forth three basic principles found in Scripture that help us to better understand our faith when confronted with evil and to better communicate words of truthful healing to a death-riddled world like ours.
Man is Free and God is Good
Though the word "free-will" is not used in the Bible it is clearly a biblical concept.
D.A Carson, a New Testament professor and theologian, puts forth nine different types of biblical texts that can be used as evidence for libertarian free will:
(1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands.
(2) People are said to obey, believe, and choose God.
(3) People sin and rebel against God.
(4) People’s sins are judged by God.
(5) People are tested by God.
(6) People receive divine rewards.
(7) The elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative.
(8) Prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God.
(9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22)
If not understood in context with genuine free-will, these biblical facts turn the Bible into a show with God as the one and only actor!
However, we can draw from the biblical concept of free-will that God is not the ultimate cause and determiner of everything.
While time and space (and limited education!) does not allow me to go through every passage of Scripture in the free-will/determination debate, I believe for the nine reasons listed above, we are justified in holding that God is not the ultimate cause of man's actions, including his evil.
Are we to suppose that our holy and pure God, who cannot even look on evil with favor (Hab. 1:13), would determine or desire that a madman murder a group of movie goers?
It is illogical nonsense to suppose that our God who hates sin, causes people to sin, and then punishes them for the sin that he caused them to commit.
Instead in Scripture we see that "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
This is not to say that God is soft on sin or never enacts divine judgement, but that he is patient, not a hot-head, but a God who truly loves His people and, out of His love, stays his hand of judgement for our sake (Jonah 4:2, Ezekiel 18:32).
Death Is Not The End
Death was never part of God's plan for mankind, but came as a result of man's sinfulness (John 10:10, Genesis 2:17).
From that fateful day in the Garden to the shooting today, death has wracked our world and will continue to do so until the Lord reigns on the earth in all of His glory.
But take heart because that day is coming!
But for now we can comfort our friends and family with the message that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and lives today with the promise to save all those who come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30, Revelation 22:17)!
Death does not need to be the end, so please take the time to share the good news of God's salvation so that one day we can all say with Paul, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (I Corinthians 15:55).