In God’s Defense?
Dunblane School Massacre
Christians should beware of the temptation to rush to God's defence when a tragedy like Dunblane happens. Sometimes our answers can be given in such a way that, although they contain much truth, somehow do more harm than good. Job's comforters said little that was wrong — but it was the context and tone and what they left out which caused Job so much distress. I am afraid that the recent 'last word' in the Monthly Record was very much in the mould of Job's comforters. It contained much that was true but also gave a distorted impression of both the gospel and God. Did Dunblane really happen because of abortion, homosexuality, single parenthood, marital infidelity and the failure of 19th Century theologians to take a strong and uncompromising stand against Darwin's theory of evolution?
Simplistic answers do little to persuade those who do not believe and confuse many who do. Why does the writer only mention certain sins? Why are greed, war, poverty, religious pride and materialism left out of the equation? Is it right to present a caricature of evolution which implies that no-one who accepts any form of evolution believes in God? Is it really the case that 40 years ago we were not in rebellion against God and his laws? Is it not a bit simplistic to equate the actions of someone like Thomas Hamilton with the current decline in moral standards? Were there no child abusers or mass murderers last century? I seem to recall learning about someone called Jack the Ripper — who operated at the height of the Victorian boom in religion. Jesus warned us about trying to equate specific disasters with specific sin or sinners (Luke 13:1-5).
So what should we say about Dunblane? Perhaps nothing! We do not need to defend God. If we trust him we know that he will bring justice and that he does all things well. The only reason to speak is not for God, or to reassure ourselves, but rather for the benefit of those who have been hurt, wounded and confused by the events of Dunblane. Because of that there is a time to be silent - we can only sympathise with and care for those who have experienced this tragedy. There are some questions that we cannot answer. Or at least we cannot answer without appearing to be heartless and glib and giving an incomplete picture of God.
But perhaps there is a time to speak. If so, maybe we should ask questions about the immediate causes of the tragedy. Whilst we must never lose sight of the fact that the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart, we must also reflect and act upon the way that we can prevent human sin causing so much tragedy. All of us would recognise that the burglar breaks into the home because he has a sinful heart but that still does not prevent us locking our doors and locking him up if caught! In a similar way we must question the values in our society which are prepared to glorify guns as a weapon of destruction and violence.
Equally we need to ask hard questions about what we do to help people like Thomas Hamilton? Did anyone seek to befriend this loner? Did anyone bring him the gospel of peace? This is not to deny his own responsibility but as Christians we are not to shout from the sidelines. We are to seek to help all sinners and that includes those loners who do not fit into our society. Furthermore, why was Mr. Hamilton running youth clubs? As well as asking about necessary safeguards for those involved with working with children perhaps we should also be asking if the Church could play a more active role in providing for our young people. Maybe one day some future Thomas Hamilton may remember something we have taught them in our Sunday Schools and youth clubs and turn to Christ instead of turning to the gun.
But what can we say to those who are asking philosophical/theological questions in order to understand rather than accuse? If God is Sovereign and Good then why did he not prevent this tragedy? It is not enough to say that it is because of original sin. If that were the case why, given that everyone is born a sinner, are we not all struck down by vicious murderers? The answer is much more complex and includes us admitting that there are some things we do not really know.
We know that there is sin and evil in the world. What can we do about it? What has God done? "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). God sent his Son to enable us to be freed from evil and sin and ultimately to go to a place where there is no sin, no pain, no suffering and no violence. Not only is this so but he also acts now to restrain violence and wickedness. This world is not as evil as it could be. God's common grace works for all. He makes his sun to shine on the just and on the unjust. God has not withdrawn totally the restraining influences of his grace from our society. So why did God not restrain Thomas Hamilton? We don't know. But perhaps part of the answer is to ask why should he? Indeed why should God act with any restraining influence upon anyone? Perhaps it is because of human responsibility. We have the freedom to choose between right and wrong. Is it right then to blame God when we get the consequences of what we choose? The fact is that evil does exist in our society and the whole of creation is tainted by it. Why then does not God just destroy the evil in our society by destroying the society? Perhaps it is because in order to do so God would have to destroy us. Besides, The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Meanwhile those of us who are believers should be reflecting the love of Christ in our society. Do we really believe that God is dispassionate about Dunblane and all the other expressions of evil in our society? Does he not weep? Is he not angry at these things? Should we not also reflect that compassion? If Dunblane only causes us to reflect upon human sinfulness from a distance then we have failed. But if we can be motivated by the love of Christ for our sick society then perhaps all our words, thoughts and pain will not be in vain. Because at the end of the day it will not be what we say but what we do which determines whether we really are the followers of Jesus.