About lunch time on Monday, April 16, one of our volunteers from Virginia, serving in the ongoing relief efforts, informed me of the massacre unfolding in his home state. We paused together in a time of prayer for the survivors, the victim’s families, and the authorities still on the scene trying to stabilize the situation.
Every news outlet in the country carried the story and looked for answers. National Public Radio interviewed Jeremy Rasor, the student and youth minister at the CBF affiliated Blacksburg Baptist Church regarding the Virginia Tech shootings. In the discussion Rasor asserted:
“I think the question we are going to hear the most is ‘why,’ you know, ‘How could God let this happen?’ – Which is to be expected. My answer to that has been since Monday, since it all began, is that God wasn’t in this act. God is with us now. This was not God’s will. This was not God’s divine plan. This was one man’s choice. We have a choice whether to follow God with our lives or to lead our own lives, and this man chose the latter. God doesn’t bring hurricanes to destroy cities, or tsunamis to wipe out countries, or a man to kill 32 people. Truthfully I would challenge anybody, no matter how famous or prominent they might be that says otherwise, that this was brought on by God somehow.”
You can listen to the interview In Blacksburg, Finding Answers to Unanswerable Questions. Jeremy Rasor’s unhelpful and unbiblical observations deserve closer examination.
In speaking of the shooting tragedy, the Blacksburg pastor boldly and flatly asserts, “God wasn’t in this.” He then challenges anyone that says otherwise. In Matthew 10:29-31 we hear Jesus himself taking on his arrogant challenge. Jesus says that not one seemingly insignificant bird falls to the ground apart from God the Father. If God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), even the falling of a little bird, then we can not count God absent in the falling of the Virginia Tech students.
Recognizing God’s sovereign hand in the midst of tragedy does not release humans from the responsibility of their sinful actions. The shooter at Virginia tech deserves the full weight of God’s righteous wrath upon him. Applying Genesis 50:20; Seung-Hui Cho meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
Rasor said, “God doesn’t bring hurricanes to destroy cities;” but God says, ” I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7) The Psalmest recognizes that God brings “desolation on the earth” (Psalm 46) and the prophet Amos asks, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6) The sovereignty of God over all things saturates every page of the Bible. The Blacksburg pastor’s assertions directly conflict with scripture.
I do not want to sound like I’m treating this subject as a cold academic theological exercise. I do not minimize the horror of the tragic shootings or make light of human suffering and pain.. I pastor a church on the Mississippi gulf coast. Hurricane Katrina totally destroyed our church buildings, and left every family in our community homeless. The storm killed dozens of people in our county and I officiated a good many of their funerals. Two years later, we still find ourselves digging out from under the rubble. What comfort would it speak to grieving and hurting people to tell them of a impotent God who had no control over, and no purpose in, the tragic floodwaters of August 29, 2005?
Every day I meet, talk, work, and pray with people who still suffer from the massive devastation in our community. Rasor’s theological denial of the sovereignty of God over all things undercuts the stabilizing truth that sustains us in the midst of tragedy. I speak from personal testimony, if I did not think God’s strong omnipotent hand of providence held a purpose, plan, and design, I could not have gone on after the storm. Instead, I take comfort in the Apostle Paul’s acknowledgement, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
When Paul suffered affliction and felt that he faced death itself, he learned that God designed the pain to cause him to rely not on his own strength, but on the God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11) “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-18)
When hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf coast and wrecked our community, we knew that the storm did not take God by surprise. As hymn writer William Cowper put it, “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines, Of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will.” God’s thousands of purposes all fall under the big umbrella of manifesting His glory. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Unlike Pastor Rasor, when Jesus fielded questions concerning the seemingly senseless tragedies of his day, he did not try to cover for God by misdirecting thoughts away from God’s inscrutable design. (Luke 13:1-5) Instead, he offered them a warning of grace by pointing to the justice and mercy of God, and calling his hearers to turn from their sin lest they likewise perish.
The Blacksburg shootings, 9-11, hurricane Katrina, cancer, and every personal tsunami we face should remind us that we live in a sin scarred world under the hand of God’s righteous judgement. His overwhelming mercy and grace extends to every person he grants the ability to take another breath. God sovereignty over all things, his righteousness and his justice, his mercy and his grace meet together at the cross for a full display of his glory. I pray that God will use the Virginia Tech shootings and the light of his word, to cause countless people to anchor their hope in an all powerful God who can hold a hurricane in his hand.