My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the shooting rampage in Aurora, Colorado on July 19th. My family lived in Aurora when I was about a year old or so. In fact, I was actually baptized at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in that town. Although I don't remember Aurora--we moved when I was still quite small--I feel a sympathy for the place and for those who have suffered there.
I wonder if there's anyone out there who is asking, "If God is good, how could he let something so terrible as this happen?" Truly, moments of such horror, placed right on our doorstep, challenge our whole belief system.
For my part, however, I rest in the belief that God did not cause this tragedy--a disturbed young man did.
Yet now you ask me, "But, Pastor Owen, why would God let this happen?"
Here's my best answer: I still believe that God is good--and good all the time. As the scripture says, "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31a) God is not the author of evil; nevertheless, we are always faced with the problem that nothing can exist without its opposite. Because we have light, we understand that there is darkness. Because there is sound, we apprehend the concept of silence. So if we believe in real goodness, we must accept that there may be some things which are not good. Indeed, if we are truly free to experience love, charity, mercy, pity, friendship, and all of the things which make us most human, we must accept that these things can only be genuine in our hearts because we also have the capacity to deny them. In order to make love real, we are born with the ability to chose hatred, indifference, selfishness, violence, and all which degrades the human spirit. And to be born into a world where such a choice exits is to be born into a very dangerous place. Just as to be born on a beach means we will forever encounter sand, to be born human means we will never be out of contact with evil.
So where was God on the night of July 19th in Aurora, Colorado?
God was present in the heroic acts of love expressed by those who refused to leave wounded friends and children--in those who shielded others with their own bodies. In acts of life-giving sacrifice which echoed the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross.
God was present in the compassion of first responders and emergency room teams who have dedicated their lives to the protection of complete strangers.
God was present--and is present still--in the compassionate embrace of a community and a nation praying for and loving the victims of this tragedy.
And, sadly, God is present in the love experienced through grief. And God does not cease to be good even when our circumstances keep us from seeing the goodness.
God will be present in the challenges which lie before the members of this community as the victims recover and try to reclaim their lives. There will be much need for love, patience, empathy, and courage. There will also, I hope, be found the need for that most divine of attributes, forgiveness.
I can't bring myself to hate James Holmes or wish for his execution. I don't know what kind of demons have laid claim to his mind--a mind which might otherwise have been a benefit to his fellow human beings. I only pray that such violent demons do not claim my mind. I pray only for mercy and healing for this community, and the peace which passes understanding.
Thanks for reading, my friends. As always, I'm interested to learn your thoughts.