October 1, 2017, presumably-lone-gunman Stephan Paddock sprayed rifle fire, thousands of rounds in about 10 minutes, from his 32nd floor Mandalay Bay Resort corner room into an unsuspecting crowd of thousands, enjoying the weather and a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Latest count, he killed 58 people and injured close to 500.
News anchors are understandably distraught, asking, Why? How could a person do this? One even said, "But he was a multi-millionaire," incredulous someone with money could slaughter others. But money, education, talent, success, beauty, age do not produce moral uprightness.
Media pundits ask, Why? The answer is not easy even if it seems too simplistic. Sin is why, a wicked and warped heart, what Calvin called "total depravity," the human condition. Whatever kind of life Stephan Paddock had lived, he had given his heart over to sin. And sin leads to destruction "For the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23a).
This may sound like religious moralism. But it’s more than that. It’s biblical Christianity, it is an understanding of the Sovereign God, and it is meaningful theology.
So, some say, OK, this is avoidable tragedy. Why did God allow it? This is where theodicy comes into the picture.
Tragedy is a conversational word that means disaster, sadness, or unexpected developments that victimize human happiness, wellbeing, and even lives.
Theodicy is a less often used word that means a vindication of divine justice in allowing evil, suffering, or tragedies to exist.
Tragedies we’ve seen, perhaps experienced, and all-too-painfully understand. Theodicy, the idea that God has a reason for tragedies, the idea that God allows or, even more discomforting, directs tragedies is not so easy to understand.
Yet if we believe in the God of the Bible we must acknowledge his sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence. He is in control. He knows all things. Nothing is a surprise or an accident to him. He is all-powerful, so nothing happens outside of his will or influence. Not 9/11, not this latest senseless mass brutality against innocent concertgoers.
The idea that God could have stopped the carnage seems to beg the question of God’s purported love and compassion for people. In the after-shock of irrational violence and unnecessary death, the thought that God could have prevented the tragedy tests our faith.
So some question God’s existence, some his goodness. Some, like Job’s wife, simply want to curse God and die.
Yet in the Book of Job, the oldest scriptural writings, God does not answer all of Job’s questions. God reminds Job and us that he, God, is great. That he is good. That he is just. That he is love. God is big—bigger than our circumstances, bigger than suicide bombers, terrorists, or lone-wolf killers.
Theodicy, in the end, requires faith—faith in a God whose goal is to reconcile us with him, even through tragedies, even in the face of man’s inhumanity to man. This, in turn, requires a right understanding of theology. To interpret properly the world and its volatile events we must know who God is, what comprises his character, and what he wills for the world in which we live.
Tragedy is abrupt and often life altering. Theodicy can meet our rational need to know why and our emotional need for comfort. Theology provides us with understanding of a God who is not mean, vindictive, arbitrary, or clueless but a God who is love, righteous, and peace.
I cannot answer the question, “Why?” other than to point to sin and its destructive consequences. But I believe God is in charge, he knows, and he will hold accountable not only Stephan Paddock but all others in the world who perpetrate evil upon society.
I also know that sin and death, i.e. hopelessness, are not the end. The rest of Romans 6:23 says, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." God is at work in the world. He is at work in the midst and the aftermath of barbarism. In the days ahead, we may hear some stories of spiritual impact, but then again we may not. Either way, we know God’s providence is still present, as is his peace.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2017
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