Why Is There Evil: Understanding the Newtown Shooting
December 14, 2012 was truly a black Friday and another American date to live in infamy. In a matter of minutes, a deranged young man broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 20 children and five adults. Prior to this bloodbath, Adam Lanz shot his own mother at point blank range. Word is now emerging that he was mentally ill.
In the wake of the horrific shooting, everyone is asking “why?” It’s more than just understanding why anyone would or could be so brutally calloused and excessively violent, but to a greater degree why (if there’s a God) it happened at all.
For those of faith, explaining this tragedy and God’s foreknowledge and involvement is no small task. Nevertheless, spiritual conversations are happening.
Essentially: Why is there evil? Was this God’s plan in the Newtown shooting? If so, how could a loving God not prevent it?
Those are excellent questions.
I’m sure most readers won’t be surprised to learn theologians have argued over this question for centuries. How does God’s character of LOVE and PEACE interact with a world of HATE and VIOLENCE?
Part of the answer goes back to the beginning. God created the world PERFECT, with no evil. When man fell from Grace in the Garden (Genesis 3), evil was introduced to this Perfect world and that created an eternal problem, for God and evil cannot coexist. Furthermore, the fruit of evil blossomed, including hate and violence (not too long after, Cain murdered his brother Abel). To this day, man’s disobedience (sin) separates us from God, because God is Perfectly Pure. In general, religion (of all types) is man’s feeble attempts to build bridges to God (and all fail because no man-made religious system is Perfect). Ultimately, God came to earth in the form of Jesus to settle the matter and create the Way back to God. Christianity is more than a moral code, it’s the only solution to evil. Christmas and Easter are bookends to this story.
It’s important to remember that God’s character is rooted in LOVE and PEACE. Jesus was called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). John 3:16 says “God so LOVED the world he sent his only Son.” The reason God performed this altruistic act of love because the world, without God in it, is irreparably broken, completely imperfect and unbelievably evil. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection not only saved man but served man with a model for goodness. The Church throughout history has proven that good can overcome evil, again and again and again.
Ultimately, evil happens. Evil people do evil things. Evil people even do evil deeds that harm and kill the innocent and good people, whether children or adult.
Nevertheless, there’s always been a great debate about HOW GOD INTERACTS with the world He created. There are essentially three approaches:
- God created the world and now watches from a distance, with no involvement (DEISM).
- God created the world with a specific plan for all man and we are merely players in His Grand Scheme (or Script). Man has no choice and life happens on cue, as cued (DETERMINISM).
- God created the world with Purpose and a Plan (to eventually redeem man through Jesus), but allows man and life to act freely (choice) and randomly (FREE WILL).
All three theological views have their merits, but also inherent weaknesses. Only three religions frame God as a Creator and a Distinct Personality: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The latter two views (determinism, free will) are emphasized in Christian theology to shed light on Jesus’ life and ministry (why He came) and what it means now to mankind.
What happened yesterday in Newtown was clearly evil in action (mental illness can produce evil thoughts and deeds). If you prefer deism, then the tragedy reveals a disconnected and possibly unconcerned God. If you lean determinism, then you must admit God’s hand was in the shooting. The Almighty allowed it and, by default, knew it would happen and caused it as part of his cues. If you believe God did not cause the murders of 26 people, and that evil happens randomly, it inherently suggests a God who doesn’t know the future. Or worse, if He does, simply can’t stop evil (even if He wanted) or if He could, freely chooses not to act.
For those who prefer this latter perspective, there’s an additional insight: because man has freedom to choose evil, they also have freedom to choose good. Consequently, God (through good people and goodness) can redeem the evil to create GOOD, if GOOD people choose to redeem the evil. It’s not that God doesn’t know the future or doesn’t care. He does, but God’s design allows for each man to choose right or wrong, good or evil.
So ultimately, did God have a plan in yesterday’s tragic shooting? Absolutely. Did God know it would happen? Yes. Could God have stopped it? No doubt. But why it happened depends on how you frame God.
In the end, the frame doesn’t matter as much as how we react and respond. If the shooting was part of a Divine Script, then surely God has already positioned the players to deliver peace and goodness to this tragedy. If the shooting was random evil (simply the result of a random, evil world), then good people can choose to overcome evil with good. Either way, goodness and God will save and win the day. Only the Deist is the most troubled by tragedy for they must continually grapple with why God would create a flawed universe and then remain apathetic, potentially doing the same in response.
For the determinist and advocates of free will, there’s always HOPE. We’ve seen it in other tragedies, whether natural (like Hurricane Sandy) or manmade (like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary).
God is good and so are His People. In fact, you can’t spell “GOoD” without “GOD.”