“Oh, God!, Why?”

That question has echoed in the minds of everyone ever since news of the horrific Newtown school shootings.

It broke my heart to hear of so many dying in such a horrific attack. There’s something especially sad about elementary school children being senselessly slaughtered. It is doubly sad that to realize young innocent lives were violently murdered during this Christmas season as Christians prepare to celebrate God’s greatest gift, the birth of Christ The Savior. There are no words to describe the anguish being felt by those who are suffering today; our heart and prayers have, and will go out to them. There are so many tragic stories, so much pain. So it begs the question, “Why? Why did God allow this?” And the second question is what should we do as Christians?

That “why” question is not a new one – it goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th Century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, devastating famines in Africa, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in various parts of the globe. And don’t forget 9/11.  But the shooting of 20 children? Why can such a thing happen if there’s a loving and powerful God? How can such a thing happen to the most innocent of us?

As a father of two, I can’t imagine the pain that the parents of these precious little souls must be going through right now. But, as we look at God’s word we see that Jesus was honest about the inevitability of suffering. In John 16:33 He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” He didn’t say you might—He said it is going to happen.

But if you ask me this question: “Why did God allow a gunman to choose an elementary school and then allow him to kill so many children?” The only answer I can honestly give consists of four words: “I do not know.” I don’t have God’s mind; I don’t share his perspective. In 1 Corinthians 13:12 we’re told, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Someday we’ll see with clarity, but for now things are unclear. We can’t understand from our vantage point. Even though we can’t understand everything about it, there are some truths that we can and should believe.

First, when God decided to create human beings, he wanted us to experience love. But to give us the ability to love, God had to give us free will to decide whether to love or not to love. Why? Because love always involves a choice. Rick Warren addressed this issue on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Evil, the ugly twin of goodness, Rick wrote, is part of God’s “greatest blessing and our worst curse: our capacity to make choices.” Rather than make humankind into puppets that he could pull by a string, says Rick, God granted free will so that he might be “loved and obeyed by creatures who freely, voluntarily choose to love him and each other.”  Love is not genuine if there is no other option. So in order for us to experience love, God bestowed on us free will. But unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from him. And that has resulted in the introduction of evil into the world. Evil like what happened at the school.

Some people ask, “Couldn’t God have foreseen all of this?” and no doubt He did. But look at it this way. Many of you are parents. Even before you had children, couldn’t you foresee that there was the very real possibility they may suffer disappointment or pain or heartache in life, or that they might even hurt you and walk away from you? Of course—but you still had kids. Why? Because you knew there was also the potential for tremendous joy and deep love and great meaning.

We need to remember that God offers us the two very things we need when we’re hurting: peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future. Through his own suffering and death, he has deprived this world of its ultimate power over you. Suffering doesn’t have the last word anymore. Death doesn’t have the last word anymore. God has the last word.

So how should we as Christians react to these horrific events?

First we need to mourn. There is a time to mourn, and this is it. We mourn for these children. We mourn for their parents. We mourn for this school and the surviving children and teachers who forever will be traumatized by these terrible events.

Second, we pray. We pray for God to act on behalf of this Connecticut school, its teachers, administrators, children and parents. We ask for him to comfort them in their grief. We pray for the elementary, middle schools and high schools in our own community. We pray for their safety and salvation.

Third, we reach out. This nation needs the gospel now more than ever. We need to reach everyone with the hope of Jesus Christ. Invite your friends to hear the message of peace and hope that will be presented next Sunday during our Christmas message.