The following is only the first half of my “theological reflection and counseling” in response to human-inflicted atrocities. I shared this as my sermon on Sunday, July 22, just two days after the shooting deaths of 12 and the wounding of 58 by a gunman in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20. This is also a follow-up on the theological reflection I shared after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and other tragedies similar to this most recent one.
The truth stands the same in all these instances.
These words of Jesus carry perhaps the most meaningful message to us right now and serve as “the text” for this message (from John 14:27): Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
The absolute depths of our “fallen sinful world” flashed before our eyes again as we watched with horror the reports of the shootings in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. We, of course, condemn and grieve these most gruesome acts of sin, and we pray for God’s peace to come in full measure to give help and hope to all who need it so desperately at this time.
Jesus calls us to “bear one another’s burdens.” Today we especially bear the burden of the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy. And we bear also the burden of the wounded victims and their families. In addition, we bear the burden of the Aurora community as they grieve, pray, and wait for healing and recovery.
So many questions remain unanswered at this time. And for some questions there will never be answers. But there are good answers to several questions.
Question one: Was this “God’s will?” Did He intend for this to happen as a part of His plan?
Answer: Absolutely not.
• God has made it wonderfully clear by His Holy Word in scripture that His divine intention for us is safety and peace and the experience of love. The best place to see God’s divine intention for all His creation is to look at the Garden of Eden before the fall into sin. It is not “God’s business” to kill innocent people in such horrible attacks as in Aurora, Colorado this week.
• This hideous crime, as all others like it, was the willful sinful act of a deranged/sick/perverted/fallen-to-sin human being. Atrocities such as these, unfortunately, are a part of living in our “fallen sinful world.”
• And the truth is that in our “fallen sinful world” there are indeed such dangerous and destructive realities as mental illness, irrational depression, disregard for life, and the willful killing and hurting of others.
• We see in this event that the “fallen nature” and the “sinfulness” of our world is a very serious, massive, and terrible deviation from God’s intended plan for His creation. Evil does exist, and with great power. We need help. And more help than we can provide for ourselves.
Question two: Why did God let this happen? Why didn’t He come with “divine intervention” and simply use His power to stop the gunman before he even got started?
Answer: God has made our incredible world as part of His whole marvelous creation. He has given to us humans, as the “crown of His creation,” remarkable freedoms and choices as his “creatures.” We enjoy great benefits through these choices. We enjoy great freedom within our world with God’s good and loving permission.
• We don’t really know “why?” God continues to give these freedoms to us, but we know that God has chosen to let us make choices — and, again unfortunately, some people will always choose the wrong and terrible things to do. And some people will be “sick and deranged enough” or “filled with enough evil” to make horrible choices that hurt and destroy others.
• The question, “Why does God allow evil to exist and persist?” is not a question to which we know the answer. We also ask, “Why did God allow the devil to exist and continue to work evil in the world, even after Jesus died on the cross and rose again to defeat the devil?” We do not know the answer to that either.
• We just know that God decided to allow sin and evil to exist and even to have power in our world and in some people of our world. We know God surely could have totally destroyed the devil and evil if He chose to, but He chose not to.
• This all comes under the acknowledgement of “The sovereignty of God.” He is rightfully sovereign. Because He is our creator, He has the full right to make His decisions about letting the world go on even in its fallen state, even if we disagree and do not understand.
I will share the second half in a later article.
Kollmeyer is senior pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. www.princeofpeacefayette.com