Judgments and Warnings

Judgments, Warnings and Wake-Up Calls

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

Following the massacre of 20 children and five teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut,  Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said: “I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think He has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.” Dobson wasn’t alone in his assessment.

It seems that tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, mass murders and all other major mayhem-causing events are certain to evoke pronouncements about God’s role. The worse the event, the more likely the assumption of some divine purpose: It’s God’s judgment. A divine wake-up call. A heavenly warning.

But just how does this divine involvement work?

Does an angel shake Adam Lanza awake one night and say, “Adam, you know those guns and ammo you have in your house that aren’t always under lock and key? Well, I want you to arm yourself to the teeth and go down to Sandy Hook Elementary and kill a couple of dozen kids and a handful of teachers.”

And when Adam responds that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, the angel says: “Not to worry. You’d be on a divine mission. You’d be doing God’s work. So just shoot yourself when you’re done, and you’ll not only avoid prison, you’ll be fast-tracked to the pearly gates. God’s trying to make a dramatic point. And he’s asking you to help him do it. Now stop feeling guilty and get on with it.”

Not a very satisfying or believable picture of God, is it? So let’s try a different one.

It’s early on December 14. God calls in his personal assistant. “Gabriel, I want you to send an urgent memo to all the guardian angels at Sandy Hook Elementary. Tell them a crazed gunman will enter the premises today, and I want them to stand down. Dispense with all protection. Let happen whatever will happen. I’m serious about this.”

Gabriel hesitates. “But that could mean that six- and seven-year-olds would be massacred. And what about those teachers? They’re some of the finest anywhere.”

“All the better for making my point,” God replies as he scans his briefing sheet about the ongoing tensions in Egypt. “I want them to understand how really ticked I am about there being no prayers in public-school classrooms these days.”

Gabriel looks blankly at the computer screen. “But that was the Supreme Court. And that case was decided some fifty years ago,” he mutters inaudibly to himself. “Why kill bunch of little kids and their teachers now? It makes God look really . . .”

But before he can finish his sentence, God throws down his Egyptian Situation Report and gives him an exasperated look. “I heard what you just said. So let’s get one thing straight:I’m not killing anyone. I’m just withdrawing my protection. There’s a big difference. Can’t you see that?”

God’s logic sounds just like that of some of his most vocal earthly followers. So much so that Gabriel doesn’t even attempt a rebuttal. He simply hits the Send button. Clearly, it’s not going to be a good day.

Equally unsatisfying? I hope so.

The reality is, we live in a world of good and evil. Good happens. And evil happens. At times, shocking, horrendous, soul-destroying evil. We can choose to believe God did it actively. Or that God passively but purposefully allowed it. Or that a series of human choices–and no doubt a lot of stuff that, realistically, was totally outside of human control–converged to produce something truly awful. Something that would make even God weep.

Ah, now that’s an image I can relate to.

So what was God’s role at Sandy Hook? I don’t know in any definitive way. And neither does anyone else. No matter what they tell you. But I’m quite sure that explaining the massacre of innocent children and dedicated teachers in terms of divinely directed judgments, warnings and wake-up calls is going to turn a lot more people away from God than it could possibly draw to him.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.