Sometimes I doubt.
I doubt what God does and what he allows.
I know these doubts are sinful and I confess them, repent and ask God’s forgiveness.
When something like Sutherland Springs happens – something so unimaginable, incomprehensible, senseless and tragic that it defies explanation, I’ll admit I can stumble.
I begin with the assumption of God’s existence – his unsurpassed love, unfathomable knowledge and unassailable power. My Bible tells me God is incomparable in every way the human mind can imagine – and beyond.
I accept all this as the underlying premise of my limited understanding but unquestioned faith concerning the eternal Creator.
God’s in control.
I embrace his promises. Rely on his love. Then I watch and listen to human events.
I see the clear contradiction. I marvel at this persistent enigma. I struggle to truthfully put them together.
The theologians call this theodicy. It’s been a mystery since time began. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there evil? Why do horrific things happen to good, God-fearing and faithful people? Why do babies get shot and killed? Why are families summarily executed?
In a small, rural, peaceful, loving church. During the Sunday worship service.
Of all places.
A safe refuge if ever there was one.
Devin Kelley walked up and down the aisle, firing a Ruger assault rifle at unarmed Christians gathered to praise God. Twenty-six of them died. Twenty more were wounded.
There was nowhere to flee. No place to hide. Easy targets. Helpless victims. Innocent lives. Filled with love for their Savior, their community, their church, their families, one another.
Good Christian people – people of stronger faith and greater love than I’ll ever have.
They are brutally murdered.
Massacred by hate.
I’m with the perplexed psalmist:
“When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me” (Psalm 73:16).
And the desperate dad: “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Many explanations are offered to help us grasp the inexplicable.
That Sutherland Springs is beyond even the most brilliant and sophisticated understanding doesn’t stop us from seeking answers.
In this there is some futility – though sincere.
We always end up back where we started, praying for redemption and revival, waiting for the next horror – and more explanations.
The killings come with increased frequency – not “alarming” frequency – we passed that marker some time ago.
We’re not stunned any longer. We’re not even surprised.
We expect this.
Luther once called Satan “God’s devil”, limited in his ability to do harm; kept on a strong chain, albeit a long one. Still, the evil one is relentless, seeking to effect his agenda of hate and destruction anywhere and any way he can. The apostle Paul may have differed with Luther’s metaphor, for he described our ancient foe as “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
Christians naturally place much of the blame on the devil and in this we are more theologically right than wrong.
Yet how much of this lies within the human condition? Within the hearts – and the values and virtues; the choices and leanings – of men and women.
We should understand the laws of nature, not just Nature’s God. What we sow – as individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation – is surely what we reap. We have sown the wind and we are now reaping the whirlwind.
We are becoming a nation without anchor or compass – morally and spiritually adrift. Unmoored from decency or civility.
Our politics are at their lowest ebb in over a century. Our language of public discourse is laced with profanity, riven by hate and corrupted by lies.
We are divided. We are angry. We have turned on each other. It’s as if the better angels of our nature have taken flight, leaving us to our worst selves.
Violence is so common in popular entertainment it has aestheticized us to the real thing. We see these monthly attacks – these horrific and brutal massacres – as the new normal.
CS Lewis wrote of this moral cause and effect:
“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
It is tragically inevitable.
What America – including the American church – needs most is what it’s least likely to acknowledge: repentance.
Nothing less will truly heal our hurting land.
God loves us. He draws us to himself. He will hear our prayers. He alone can answer the longings and needs of our souls. He alone can end this awful pestilence and restore our national unity and happiness.
How long shall we stubbornly rebel against God’s moral law? And drink from the broken cisterns of wealth and power?
When House Speaker Paul Ryan said we should pray for the people of Southerland Springs, his twitter account was filled with angry denunciations about the futility of prayer and the need for gun control.
It’s true of course that prayer should never excuse inaction.
It’s also true that what we face in this nation is preeminently a spiritual problem.
No party, no president and no law can fix it.
Through the beautiful simplicity of their steadfast faith, the people of Southerland Springs, in their grief and unimaginable loss, may point our country to the way forward.
It’s the way back.