When something horrific like the shooting at Aurora, Colorado takes place, the internet quickly fills with commentary with a religious twinge based on a single question: Where was God?
That’s easy to answer when things are going well. Athletes like to point to the heaven to acknowledge their thanks for some accomplishment, for example. It’s not so simple when disaster strikes.
In Colorado, 12 people died when James Holmes (right) opened fire at a movie theater. Some 58 were injured. Couldn’t God stop Holmes? After all, He is supposed to be all powerful.
Naturally, true believers argue that God doesn’t micromanage. That allows shooter James Helms to go ahead and shoot while God mops up. As one writer insisted, God is with the doctors and nurses, the emergency workers and so on. That was countered by another writer who insisted that he won’t pray to a God who waits until after a disaster to help.
Nobelist Elie Wiesel (left) had one answer in his book, Night, which detailed his experience as a teenager caught up in the Nazi holocaust. He and fellow inmates had to watch the hanging of a young boy. Asked by another inmate where God was, he answered, “There, hanging.”
At Auschwitz, one of the most notorious of concentration camps, several rabbis put God on trial. According to Wiesel, who witnessed the trial, the small group voted that God “owed us something,” and left for evening prayer.
In reality, there are few options when God doesn’t use His supposed power to interfere in a tragedy:
1) He doesn’t want to. We supposedly have free will, so He won’t interfere. That brings us back to the belief promulgated by 1500s Protestant zealot John Calvin that no one knows who is saved. God decides. As such, prayer has no meaning. Neither does anything anyone does. On the other hand, if God doesn’t want to do anything in such dire circumstances, then all religion has little meaning.
2) He wants to, but doesn’t. That option would be worse. It means that God simply chooses not to interfere for any plausible reason. He doesn't like cities named for the Roman goddess of the dawn? Does He like Holmes better than the people who died? What did the children killed there do wrong? The whole event becomes completely inexplicable
3) He doesn’t care. This option continues the downward slide. After all, if He isn’t interested in such events, what is He interested in? People who don’t go to the theater? People who don’t own guns? His focus can't be on faithful believers. After all, believers regularly are killed right along with non-believers. That’s true in Nazi Germany and in Aurora. Again, if God has no interest, why bother praying to a diffident deity? We are essentially on our own.
|Survivors console each other.
4) He doesn’t exist. This one, naturally, outrages believers. Their only choice is to credit God with stepping in after the event, for example, as a source of solace. As any survivor of such event can testimony, there isn’t much. Many survivors are plagued with questions about why they lived while others died.
Equally, the lack of existence resolves all the questions about why God didn’t intercede. If there’s no God, then there’s no one to step in.
Many people reject that, of course, citing cases like the successful landing in the Hudson River by US Airways Flight 1549 airplane in 2009. The problem is, as Wiesel and others have noted, there are multiple cases where nothing of the sort happened. In fact, in 2009, the year when the plane miraculously landed in the river without loss of life, there were fewer major plane crashes – a decline from 23 to 18 – but more deaths. According to the International Air Transport Association, 685 people died in air crashes that year compared to 502 the year before.
Did God only have interest in one plane?
The truth is, of course, no one has an answer. That’s why users of Twitter and Facebook, among other sites, continually debate the topic. As if it mattered. If there’s a God, He didn’t do anything about Holmes and his murderous attack. If there is no God, there was no one to act.
The implications of that should keep all of us busy until the next gruesome event.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1