As a Colorado native the shooting in Aurora much like the Columbine shootings in 1999 have had a profound impact on me. Like most people I'm saddened, outraged and have many questions. In fact every time a horrible tragedy occurs whether its a mass shooting or natural disaster questions from believers and skeptics alike abound. One question I do not have however is the question of where God was when this tragedy unfolded.
The question of "where was God when..." is asked probably most frequently because our concept of God is of a being who dislikes tragedy and suffering and it doesn't seem to jive when tragic events occur.
I am writing from the perspective of a believer and Christian so my view is obviously different from that of a skeptic. I do think there are good answers and want to try and explain as simply as possible to bolster the faith of the believer and to try and answer the questions of the skeptic.
The Problem of Free Will
When someone asks the question "where was God when...?" typically behind the question is a frustration that God did not step in and prevent the tragedy from occurring. The source of the frustration is that God is supposed to be all-powerful and could prevent anything that he desired. So why didn't he?
First ask yourself this question. How much would you want God to intervene? Would you wish him to prevent all natural disasters? Would you want all murders stopped? Would you want all child-abuse to be eliminated? I think all of us would desire those things. But take it a step further. Would you want all lying to be stopped or to get fairly trivial would you want God to intervene so you never stubbed your toe?
The point is, where you draw the line for God's intervention in human affairs? At what point does God's intervention prevent us from having free will?
And that really is the point. Because God has chosen to give us free will he cannot by definition "make" us only choose to do good all the time. And because all humans have free will they have a choice to help their fellow man or harm their brother.
It all Seems So Pointless
The problem of suffering and evil in the world is undoubtably one of the hardest questions for the believer to answer but I do think there are some good answers.
Many skeptics have said that a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God would not allow pointless suffering in the world. Because there appears to be much pointless suffering they say God cannot exist.
Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God makes this point: "Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless."
Of course what this assumes is that our minds should be able to plumb the depths of God's mind and understand every reason he has for what he does. Many people assume that if there are good reasons to allow suffering then they should be accessible to our minds but why should this be? Logically this doesn't hold up.
Also consider how hard times and suffering actually help people to get through life. Many people would admit that most of what they really needed for success in life came out of their experiences with pain and struggle. A lot of times in hindsight people will look back and see that suffering is exactly what they needed to help them in the future.
Keller says later: "...with time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life. Why couldn't it be possible from God's vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?"
If you are mad because you believe God is all-knowing and powerful enough to stop suffering and hasn't, you have to realize that the same God is all-knowing and powerful enough to have reasons to allow it.
God Really Does Care
One of the reasons I am a Christian is because the Christian faith has answers and hope for suffering. Some people don't care about logic and philosophy and whether or not it all proves or disproves God exists. They are hurting. What I would say to that person is to understand that Jesus put himself on the hook for all of human suffering.
Before God created mankind and gave him free will he knew man would reject him and so Jesus volunteered to come to earth to suffer on our behalf. Not only did Jesus suffer the torture and execution of the cross but he suffered the breaking of the infinite relationship with his father which in my opinion is the greatest suffering anyone has or will go through.
Think of when you have lost a relationship. It hurts to be left by a friend or co-worker. The pain only intensifies if you suffer the loss of relationship with a family member. Now think of the infinite loving relationship Jesus had with his father. To lose that relationship, to have his father turn his back on him as the Bible says would have been more terrible than anyone could imagine. But he did it because he loved us.
So Where Was God in Aurora?
He was where he has always been. Colossians 1:17 says: And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. God was actively watching and holding this world together. Watching and working with pain as his creation hurts itself and others. Watching and working with love as he desires for his creation to love him back.
God was sovereignly allowing this event to happen not so that we might have the most happiness in life but so that people would ultimately be drawn to him. And when that happens the Bible gives us a promise in Revelation 21:4 that one day suffering will be no more and that every tear will be wiped away.
That is my hope.