Saturday, April 21, 2007

Virginia Tech: What Has God Done?

Cheryl and I were traveling to Virginia this past Monday when news of the tragedy at Virginia Tech unfolded. We were not in the immediate area of Virginia Tech, but we did meet people who were personally touched by this tragedy. The family we stayed with knew a student whose life was taken that day; when paying for pancakes at IHOP, the cashier told us that her cousin was killed.

During times of tragedy like this, we begin to reflect on our deepest beliefs. We might even question our faith. This is especially true when the tragedy is so personal, and not just a violent image on the TV screen. And it doesn’t matter much how long we have been a Christian; an emotional impact is a jarring experience no matter how much knowledge we’ve gained over time.

I do not think it is wrong for such events to shake our faith. In fact, it is probably the appropriate response. By God’s grace, he often shields us from the horrible consequences and effects of sin. He shows us his goodness, generosity, and mercy daily in hundreds of ways. Even though we believe in the terrible effects and consequences of sin, these beliefs often remain somewhat intellectual – in the background. While the news offers daily reminders of violence, it is generally not so close to us; it remains, for most Americans, far away. That is, until tragedy strikes, or until a personal experience brings the reality of sin into full display.

If our life has been blessed with a degree of comfort, which would rightly be described as a display of God’s tremendous mercy, our faith is shaken by tragedies such as this precisely because God has been so good to us in the past.

Yet even though events like this may shake us up, they may also shake us free. They shake us free from false beliefs and false hope. On a national level, we are shaken free from the false hope that we can, by our own power, contain the effects of sin. Clearly we cannot. There is always a sad scramble to pin the blame on someone “higher up” who could have done something, anything, to prevent something like this… yet even if we could uncover such a person, the next tragedy will again reveal our inability to create a sin-free, violence-free world. In fact, that is exactly what has happened. Columbine, 9-11, Katrina, Iraq, Virginia Tech, and anything else that can be named… we cannot “fix” things up so well that we no longer need God.

Yet God is the “highest up” we can go, and it is for this reason that we question our faith: why didn’t he do something?

That “why” question is not a bad one. If asked in humility, it might lead us to reflect afresh on exactly what God has done. He has sent his Son into this violent world. He has offered redemption from sin and eternal life. He has given his Holy Spirit to those who believe, in order that this new life may take root now. He has given His church as a community in which we can begin to experience the comfort and joy of a worshiping and healing community. And in each of our individual lives, he has done much more.

But there are indeed things God hasn’t done. He has not shielded our world from tragedy. He has not yet wiped the planet free of sin. To do this would wipe us out! Events like this actually confirm what the Bible affirms: we live in a sin-scarred world, yet one in which redemption may be found.

Nevertheless, it’s painfully difficult at times to accept at times what God hasn’t done. This is why my prayers go out to those who are hurting right now, whether through this national tragedy or through a more personal one. We can affirm and even enjoy together what God has done, even as we wait for what he will do.

It is my prayer that those whose faith is shaken through this latest tragedy will also find their faith deepened. And if we entrust ourselves to God, that will indeed happen – because God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death.

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