Where Was God in Newtown, Connecticut?
The events that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 are, in every sense of the word, tragic. A gunman named Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children, six adults, himself and his mother in one of the most deadly school shootings in U.S. history. As is always the case when tragedies like this occur, various people and groups use the events to propel their agendas. In the past several decades, the atheistic community has used occurrences like this as “evidence” that a loving God does not exist. These atheistic writers and speakers contend that if there is a loving God, He would never allow a person to shoot 20 innocent children in cold blood. If there is a loving God, they claim, He would stop such a brutal killing. Since He did not stop it, either He does not have the power to stop it, or He is not a loving God who cares for innocent children. Either way, they suggest, the concept of a loving, all-powerful God such as the one portrayed in the Bible cannot exist in the face of such senseless brutality. “If there is a loving God, where was He on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut?” they demand. What can the Christian say in response to such reasoning?
Evil Did Occur—Which Proves Atheism Cannot be Right
It is a fact that the actions of the gunman were evil. He should not have killed 27 people and himself. Virtually every person who hears an account of his actions rightly understands that what he did was horribly wrong and evil. Yet, in a world without God, there is no way to contend that what he did was evil. Atheist Frederick Nietzsche understood this perfectly. He wrote: “We believe that severity, violence, slavery, danger in the street and in the heart, secrecy, stoicism, tempter’s art and devilry of ever kind—that everything wicked, terrible, tyrannical, predatory, and serpentine in man, serves as well for the elevation of the human species as its opposite” (2007, p. 35). You see, if humans are merely the product of mindless, random, naturalistic processes over millions of years, then how can any person claim to know that Adam Lanza did something evil. From where would the concept of evil originate if nature were all there is or was?
Charles Darwin was fully aware of the implications of atheism and godlessness. He wrote: “A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts with are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones (1958, p. 94). Thus, if there really is no God, then Adam Lanza was simply following the instincts and impulses that seemed the strongest to him. If other products of natural processes (humans) do not like what he did, they cannot say it was evil, or wrong, all they would be able to say is that they do not have those same instincts or impulses. And yet, the truth of the matter is, something evil, wicked, and wrong did occur. If that is true, there must be a God.
In a very famous statement, C.S. Lewis captured this thought perfectly when he wrote:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust...? Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple (Lewis, 1952, pp. 45-46, italics in orig.)
If something that was, in fact, evil, took place in Newtown on December 14, 2012, then there must be a God.
But What About the Children?
Once we establish the fact that the existence of evil does not militate against God’s existence, but actually establishes it, there is still the emotional question of how God could allow innocent children to die. In fact, it is often the case that atheists will attempt to draw attention away from the rational side of the discussion and argue from pure emotion. “How could a loving God let innocent children die?” they insist. Their contention is that God has, in some way, wronged the innocent children. Their allegation fails, however, when we understand the true nature of what has happened.
The Bible repeatedly stresses the idea that physical death is not complete loss, and can actually be beneficial to the one who dies. The Bible explains that every person has a soul that will live forever, long after physical life on this Earth is over (Matthew 25:46). The Bible consistently states the fact that the immortal soul of each individual is of much more value than that individual’s physical life on this Earth. Jesus Christ said: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Although the skeptic might object, and claim that an answer from the Bible is not acceptable, such an objection falls flat for one primary reason: the skeptic used the Bible to formulate his own argument. Where is it written that God is love? In the Bible, in such passages as 1 John 4:8. Where do we learn that God is all-powerful? Once again, that information comes directly from the Bible, read Genesis 17:1. Where, then, should we look for an answer to this alleged moral dilemma? The answer should be: the Bible. If the alleged problem is formulated from biblical testimony, then the Bible should be given the opportunity to explain itself. As long as the skeptic uses the Bible to formulate the problem, we certainly can use the Bible to solve the problem. One primary facet of the biblical solution is that every human has an immortal soul that is of inestimable value.
With the value of the soul in mind, let us examine several verses that prove that physical death is not necessarily evil. In a letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote from prison to encourage the Christians in the city of Philippi. His letter was filled with hope and encouragement, but it was also tinted with some very pertinent comments about the way Paul and God view death. In Philippians 1:21-23, Paul wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (emp. added).Paul, a faithful Christian, said that death was a welcome visitor. In fact, Paul said that the end of his physical life on this Earth would be “far better” than its continuation. For Paul, as well as for any faithful Christian, the cessation of physical life is not loss, but gain. Such would apply to innocent children as well, since they are in a safe condition and go to paradise when they die (see Butt, 2003).
Other verses in the Bible show that the loss of physical life is not inherently evil. The prophet Isaiah concisely summarized the situation when he was inspired to write: “The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness” (57:1-2, emp. added). Isaiah recognized that people would view the death of the righteous incorrectly. He plainly stated that this incorrect view of death was due to the fact that most people do not think about the fact that when a righteous or innocent person dies, that person is “taken away from evil,” and enters “into peace.”
The psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). Death is not inherently evil. In fact, the Bible indicates that death can be great gain in which a righteous person is taken away from evil and allowed to enter peace and rest. God looks upon the death of His faithful followers as precious. Skeptics who charge God with wickedness because He has allowed the physical lives of innocent babies to be ended are in error. They refuse to recognize the reality of the immortal soul. Instead of the death of innocent children being an evil thing, it is often a blessing for that child to be taken away from a life of hardship and evil influence at the hands of a sinful society, and ushered into a paradise of peace and rest. In order for a skeptic to legitimately charge God with cruelty, the skeptic must prove that there is no immortal soul, and that physical life is the only reality—neither of which the skeptic can do. Failure to acknowledge the reality of the soul and the spiritual realm will always result in a distorted view of the nature of God. “The righteous perishes…while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil.”
What Should We Do?
Our hearts are breaking for those in Newtown who have suffered such tragic loss. No words can adequately describe such emotional pain. But instead of allowing the skeptical community to use the evil actions of Adam Lanza to push people into the despair of atheism and unbelief, we should use this opportunity to encourage those in Newtown, and worldwide, to seek their God and Creator in times of trouble. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinthian: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). What can atheism tell the survivors?—that nothing evil was really done, and that their precious children have simply ceased to exist. Oh, how desperate. But what can Christianity offer those who mourn? We can acknowledge that evil was done, that innocent children were killed, but that their immortal souls are in paradise with their Creator. And that God offers all who will obey Him the opportunity to live forever. Thus, parents can be reunited with their children when the fleeting years of this brief earthly life are past. God, the God of all comfort, is the only One who can offer any hope or consolation in such a tragedy.
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go to Hell When They Die?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1201.
Darwin, Charles (1958), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. Nora Barlow (New York: W.W. Norton).
Lewis, C.S. (1952), Mere Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster).
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2007), Beyond Good and Evil, http://books.google.com/books?id=BAz7fkKhu30C&dq=%22We+believe+that+severity,+violence%22&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0.