We often wonder why God allows certain things. The Sutherland Springs church shooting last Sunday is certainly one of those, and we could as easily recall Las Vegas, Orlando, or any other such event or tragedy, natural or manmade. Why did God allow those who love and worship Him—young and old—to die in the very midst of that worship?
And yet … needless violence has always been with us. Man’s violence against Man—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel—is one of the Bible’s first stories, and such violence has continued throughout time. The whole history of the world is replete with violent death. Even Christian history—from the moment Jesus was crucified to the present day—is marked with martyrdom, persecution, internecine strife, etc.
We are shocked by such things now, I think, because—while tragic—death has become increasingly foreign to us. Especially here in the U.S. we don’t have to worry much about invading armies, marauding pillagers, sporadic revolutions, bandits along the roads, pandemics, high infant mortality, etc.—worries that were everyday life in centuries past.
I was pondering these things Monday after the Texas shooting, and happened to be reading from St. Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) … very much as the prophet’s: “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Similarly, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount tells us that God “…makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) … both good fortune and misfortune falling upon both good and bad people, seemingly indiscriminately from our myopic point of view.
For us Christians such verses (and the many others like them) give us some comfort, and assurance that we don’t—and can’t—know the purpose for everything that happens in our lives or in our world—good or bad. And yet, always we trust in God for His larger purpose. We see a few threads, while He weaves a tapestry … the darker portions just as essential for its overall beauty as the lighter. After all, that which at its occurrence seemed to be a pointless tragedy—Jesus’ crucifixion—was the vehicle by which salvation came to the world.
Why does evil happen? We cannot know for certain, of course, especially in individual cases. That’s the theme of the Book of Job—the mystery that God allows terrible misfortune to fall upon even the best of people. But at the end of the book of Job the author reminds us that an infinite—and infinitely-good—God’s ways cannot necessarily be comprehended by a very limited mankind.
How many parents tell their young children “Do it because I tell you to!” about painful things beyond the children’s understanding, or to protect them … the painful shot, the tooth drilled, an operation? The beloved child would simply trust his parents’ love for him.
This ought to be how we are with God—even in the most difficult and painful circumstances in our lives to trust in Our Father’s plan. Jesus Himself gives us an example just before He was arrested, condemned and crucified: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39)
After all, this earthly life is over in a comparative moment … just “a night in a bad inn”, as St. Teresa of Avila described it. But regardless of our sorrows on earth, even a moment in the embrace of God will compensate for all … and yet He offers that embrace not for a moment, but for eternity: “…he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)—not only the absence of pain or sorrow, but the surety of no danger of pain or sorrow ever again.
Certainly we always work to prevent evil, and aid those who suffer it—succoring the needy and sorrowing, fostering peace and forgiveness, etc. But with suffering comes the opportunity for the highest virtues—love and charity toward our neighbor. Perhaps this is why evil is allowed at all.
Alleviation of sorrow and pain is elusive at best, but God is the master of all life and we trust in Him. As St. Paul writes: “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) And so when tragedies happen such as that shooting at the church in Texas, or even things as terrible as war, we trust in God—in Jesus—who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5) … because it is in Him that we find new and eternal life.
about those who have fallen asleep,
so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose,
so too will God, through Jesus,
bring with him those who have fallen asleep…
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17)