Like every other mass shooting before it, the one in Parkland, FL elicited theological questions about the effectiveness of prayer and the goodness of God.
There are good, legitimate reasons for offering “thoughts and prayers.” And even from a secular perspective, prayers are as useful as all the tweets and words people offer in opposition to prayers.
But the deeper issue comes with attempting to answer how God can be good and evils, like school shootings, can exist. Philosophically, this has been called the “problem of evil” and responses that seek to defend God are called “theodicies.”
There are numerous ways to demonstrate how you can reconcile God’s goodness and the existence of evil, but not all of the attempts to defend God’s goodness are actually good themselves.
Take this meme that spreads among Christians after a tragedy in a school.
It’s not a defense of God to say He couldn’t stop school violence because He’s not allowed in schools.
Yes, this “gets God off the hook” for shootings, but we end up with a God that bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible.
A god that is incapable of entering a school due to a government regulation is an impotent god without the ability to stop any evil, much less a school shooting.
Scripture speaks of a God that cannot be stopped by government authority. He freed his people from Egyptian slavery, conquered numerous Middle Eastern armies, and took over the entire Roman Empire.
In modern life, try telling the underground church in China that God is not with them because the government says He does not exist and cannot be worshipped in their country.
An edict that prevents school officials from leading in prayers has no power to stop the God who created the universe.
The meme is blatantly false, but it is also horrifically discomforting.
We are telling those who go through evil circumstances that God may not be with them depending on what the current government regulations may be.
There is no comfort from a god who cannot be with us in our most difficult moments. It’s a good thing that’s not the God we worship as Christians.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that from His birth Jesus would be known as “Immanuel” — God with us. The very identity of our Savior is wrapped up in His being present with us.
In fact, before He ascended to the Father, He assured us He would be with us always, to the end of the age. I don’t think he added an asterisk to offer the fine print: “Promise null and void if the United States Supreme Court rules state-sponsored prayer a violation of the Constitution.”
God was with those students in the midst of the gunfire to say otherwise is contradictory to all of Scripture and all we know God to be.
In trying to defend Him, we should never redefine Him. He cannot and will not be held back by school policies or government mandates. In that, be thankful.