It saddens me to be writing another post about a shooting. It seems like just a few days ago that I addressed the Las Vegas shooting. Now, a local church in Texas is grieving after 26 people – 4 percent of the population of the small town of Sutherland Springs – were killed after a man with a rifle opened fire on the little congregation.*
This morning in one of my classes, we spent the majority of our time in prayer for the believers who are grieving the loss of family, friends, and the sense of security that they once had.
We also spent time discussing the incident itself. It was encouraging to me, because in moments like these we all have to wonder, “Why?” Why do things like this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow tragedies like this to affect His church?
It’s a perfectly natural question to ask after something as tragic as this. But while it’s an easy question to ask, it’s a harder question to answer. In short, there really is no direct answer. I can’t honestly tell you why God allows things like this to happen. Except for that somehow, some way, it brings glory to God and accomplishes His larger purposes in the world.
Think about the story of Joseph. At the end of his journey, after being thrown in a pit, enslaved, falsely accused, and finally imprisoned, he tells his brothers that, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20 ESV)
Notice that Joseph does not say, “You meant this for evil, but God managed to turn it around for good.” No, Joseph directly affirms God’s sovereignty over the course of his life – but He points out that while his brothers had evil intentions in their actions, God had a higher purpose in them. God intended to preserve the nation of Israel through his sufferings.
“But,” you might ask, “why didn’t God use some other way to preserve the nation that didn’t involve all the bad that happened to Joseph?” And my answer to you would be the answer my professor gave this morning. If there had been a better, more loving way to preserve Israel, God would have used it. To imply there was a better way for God to preserve Israel is to imply that you are wiser and more loving than God.
When tragedies like Joseph’s life or this mass shooting occur, we have to fall back on the goodness, the love, and the sovereignty of God. We have to fall back on our understanding that, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV). We must fall back on the fact that, “God is love” (I John 4:8 ESV). And we must fall back on our knowledge that He, “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11 ESV).
In moments like these, we need a big God. We need a God that can handle things like this. We need a God that is in control of things like this. And we need a God that is powerful enough to use things like this to glorify His name and spread His Gospel abroad. We need the big, caring, loving, sovereign God that the Scriptures reveal to us.
And we must remember to keep suffering like this in its proper perspective. In this life, we will never be fully relieved of suffering. Albert Mohler, in his article addressing this issue, sums it up well. He says, "We are also reminded of the fact that the only answer Christians have is the answer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the only promise of making sense out of nonsense. The gospel is the only assurance of the victory of good over evil. The gospel of Christ is the only promise of meaning and significance and satisfaction, not only in this life, but in the life to come."**
Lord, comfort those affected by this shooting. Mend their broken hearts, heal their spirits, and draw them closer to yourself. Use this event for your glory, as painful as it may be. And for the rest of us, help us not to resent you for how you have chosen to govern this world, but help us to submit to your goodness, love, and sovereignty. Help us have a high view of you that can make sense of tragedies like this. In your name, amen.