Yesterday, the nation was rocked by yet another tragic, senseless mass shooting of innocent people. This time, a small gathering of Christian believers worshipping God in a Sunday service. Although the motivations of the killers might be different, two years ago there was another mass shooting during a church Bible study in Charleston. In the aftermath of that shooting, it was abundantly clear, these victims were sincere Christians who lived their lives pursuing God’s will.
I’ve already heard people on social media and even some in the news asking the question, “Why would a loving God allow such an evil thing to happen?” Implied by some is the added thought, “especially to Christians, to people who follow Him.” The assumption is: Shouldn’t God should protect us, because we (Christians) belong to Him? We are His followers?
I know Christians regularly pray, as they should, for God’s protection. When we travel, for example. Or whenever we find ourselves in potentially dangerous situations. Many Christian parents pray for God to protect their children whenever they leave the house. In light of these church shootings, some might feel confused about the idea of praying for God’s protection anymore (“If God isn’t going to protect His own people when they’re worshipping Him in church, when can we ever feel safe?”).
I felt compelled to write this essay for two reasons. First, when I’ve heard church leaders being asked questions like these, so far, I haven’t heard many give adequate, Biblically-sound answers. They quickly shift the focus to offer verses of comfort or encourage people to turn to God for help with their grief and confusion. I get why they do this, but they don’t seem to get the essential struggle people are having when they ask questions like this. Their struggle is with God. Why would He–the One who’s supposed to be all-powerful–allow His own people to be killed and hurt this way? Why doesn’t He stop it before it happens? The unsettling implication that follows is…can we really even trust God to protect us? Does He even answer such prayers at all?
I said there were two reasons I felt the need to write this. What’s the second? It’s this…I’ve heard some church leaders go beyond the idea of just encouraging people to pray to suggest that the reason evil people are allowed (by God) to do such things is, He’s given us all free will and sometimes evil people make evil choices. But to me, this only gets at part of the equation.
Yes, God has created us with the ability to make choices, and we are all accountable to God for the choices we make (for good or bad). But is God powerless to stop people when they make choices He doesn’t like or approve of? Say, a crazed killer who carries a loaded pistol or assault rifle into a church? Can God do nothing at a time like this? If not, can He really be called all-powerful?
That’s the problem we create when we’re unable to respond to hard questions with Biblically-sound replies. I’m not saying we shouldn’t encourage people to turn to God at times like this, and I’m not disagreeing with the idea that God has given people the freedom to make choices. But these things don’t go far enough to explain the tragedies we are seeing. Add to these, all the Christians being martyred and killed for their faith in foreign countries.
Why God? Why do you allow such things?
The problem is, the Bible actually spells out the answer to such questions but, for some reason, church leaders often avoid talking about it. I say “for some reason” when I actually know the reason. Some of you reading this may only know me as a fiction author. For the last 10 years that’s what I’ve been doing, and doing it fulltime since 2010. But prior to that, I was a fulltime pastor for 25 years. During that time, and really for almost 10 years before that, I studied the Bible constantly. And for all of that time, I was a pastor ministering in America.
Why do I add that detail? Mainly because, for all of that time I’ve observed the overwhelming majority of American church leaders only portraying a one-sided, often inaccurate depiction of the God of the Bible. They choose to only dwell on the God of Love, and only preach and teach about His mercy, love and grace, especially for sinners and people who are spiritually lost.
This is true. God really is this way. But it’s not the whole story. Paul said it this way to the Corinthians: “Behold therefore, the goodness and severity of God…” (Romans 11:22). And if you read Paul’s writings, he faithfully portrayed both aspects of God’s nature to the Christians he taught during his life. The goodness of God AND the severity of God. The entire Bible, including the New Testament, portrays both aspects of God’s nature.
In one instance, when Paul was leaving the Christians in Ephesus for the final time, he said these sobering words: “And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:25-27).
This, sadly, is what far too many American preachers have done. They have shrunk back from declaring to people the whole counsel of God. They only ever focus on the verses that speak of God’s kindness, goodness and love. And there are plenty of verses on these themes (thank God for that). But that’s not ALL there is to know about God. That’s not “the whole counsel of God.” Eliminating from our spiritual diet the “severity of God” leaves believers without any clarity or hope when evil things strike them down, or when evil people do evil things to harm them.
The truth is, not only did Jesus and the Apostles, NOT teach that Christians would always be safe and protected from harm. They actually promised the opposite of that. Even at the Last Supper, when Jesus should perhaps be saying kind things to comfort His disciples about His imminent and violent departure on the cross, He said things like:
- “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
- “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (John 16:1-4)
These had to be incredibly hard words to hear. But Jesus was not alone in talking this way. He prepared His followers to be hated and even harmed, some even killed, by people who hated the Gospel message. And when you read about early church history, many of them were killed, harmed and persecuted in these and other ways by those who didn’t follow Christ.
Paul, whose faith in Christ came a little later, told Christians something very similar: “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12) Paul himself would one day be beheaded for his faith. Indeed, it is believed that 11 of the 12 apostles suffered a violent, martyr’s death. This, one could say, was their “reward” for living their lives for Christ.
Not only were they not protected by God, they were prepared by God Himself to expect the kind of hatred and suffering they wound up experiencing in the days after His own violent execution.
So…what’s the right answer to the current questions being asked about why God allows such evil things to happen, even to Christians worshipping in a church? We should be told that this very thing was promised by God as a very real possibility which some believers will experience at the hands of evil, deceived people. It is not the result of God not paying attention or failing to protect His own; it’s actually the fulfillment of things taught in the Scriptures. Things Christians should expect could happen in this fallen world. And, if anything, the Bible indicates Christians who are living in the End Times should expect such things even more.
So…should we ever pray for God’s protection? Is God ever willing to answer such prayers? The correct answer is Yes, and Yes. The Bible is filled with examples of God protecting His people from danger and evil. He even protected Jesus throughout His ministry from those who wanted to kill Him…right up until it was time to lift that hand of protection, so that Jesus could fulfill the Biblical prophecies that said the Messiah had to suffer and die, to become “the Lamb who would take away the sin of the world.”
Like all of you, I’m horrified and saddened for the victims of yesterday’s tragedy and their families. My heart goes out to them and, like so many of you, I’m praying for God’s mercy and comfort to surround them and help them through this extremely difficult time. I wish it didn’t happen. I wish the twisted, evil young man who committed these crimes could have somehow been stopped before he made the evil choices he made yesterday.
And I, like many of you, will still pray constantly for my own loved ones to be protected by God in the days to come.