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April 3, 2018Culture

God in Suffering: Our Response to Too Many School Shootings

God hasn't left our students or abandoned our nation's education system
God in Suffering: Our Response to Too Many School Shootings
Image: Pexels

The March for Our Lives—a student led effort to speak out against school shootings—took place in Washington D.C. on Saturday, March 24th. Hundreds of thousands of passionate protesters gathered in our nation’s Capitol to advocate for policy changes in support of an end to the needless massacre of students and teachers.

Data suggests that since 2000, there have been more than 130 shootings at elementary, middle, and high schools and 58 at colleges and universities. The resulting injuries and deaths are astounding.

This violence has become all too common for today’s generation of school-age children. Lockdown drills, security procedures, and bolted doors are no longer a temporary response to a short-lived problem; these mass shootings, it seems, aren’t going away anytime soon.

In response, many have called for gun legislation reform—restrictions placed on who can buy what weapons and when. Others instead choose to cast blame on the hand behind the bullet and not the weapon itself to maintain allegiance to a strict constructionist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. Regardless, all have taken to social media to share their one-stop, quick-fix, fool-proof solutions to decades of violence.

Christians too have been quick to throw their ideas into the bubbling cauldron. Some policy-based, others more theological in nature.

A quick scroll through social media led me to the discovery of one Christian’s attempt at explaining the complexities of gun violence in schools: an image depicting an imagined conversation between God and man.

“Dear God,

Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?

Signed,

A Concerned Student

Dear Concerned Student,

I’m not allowed in schools.

-God”

Our Electronic Witness

It goes without saying that the things we say, either in person or on another platform, matter. Our words—particularly, those we air in the presence of large online audiences—have implications on our Christian witness.

We should, as followers of Christ, want our words to enlighten others and give way to understanding. Our ultimate goal is simple: to lead people closer to (not farther from) a relationship with God and an understanding of who he is and how he works.

Regrettably, the above media post does more to confuse than clarify issues related to God’s character and presence in our world today.

Victim Blaming

On Tuesday, March 20th, another shooting took place in a Maryland high school. Two students were shot by another classmate, and one victim passed away. In consideration of this tragic event, I can’t help but wonder how the young victim’s parents would have reacted to this post?

Would they have felt comforted? Understood? Empathized with? My guess is that these words would have made victims feel just the opposite—faulted and blamed for the violence that had been perpetrated against their loved one.

It’s an unhelpful, oversimplified analysis to say the least.

At the heart of this post is a misunderstanding of the ways God works in our world—one that is most principally fueled by frustration with restrictions placed on free expressions of faith in schools. These restrictions, they feel, fuel the fire of violence in these settings.

As some see it, the government has succeeded in kicking God out of our educational system. In doing so, Americans have somehow brought the evil they now face upon themselves.

God in Our Schools

While the question of free religious expression in school settings is an important one, to say that one could hamper or limit the reach of God’s sovereignty so swiftly is grossly problematic. Laws are far-reaching and giving people—teachers and students—the ability to honestly express convictions matters.

But even in schools where thoughts of God and truth are undermined, his presence remains all the same. No law, school policy, or rule could ever command our Creator to leave those he made and loves. More importantly, none of these earthly authorities has the power to legislate him or his sovereignty out of existence.

In the Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis comments, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

No society—no matter how secular or faith-averse—is capable of thwarting God’s will or hindering his work. He works everything out in conformity of his will; in this, we place our hope (Eph. 1:11).

If nothing else, hear this: God is at work in our public schools. He hasn’t left our students or teachers and abandoned our nation’s education system. The challenges and dangers we must confront in these places are not proof of God’s absence; rather, they are a reminder that our world is fallen—tainted by centuries of sin.

The Problem of Evil

This post also touches a very real part of the human experience: suffering in our world. But there is so much more to consider. The sorrow, starvation, and sicknesses that so many face each day give us cause to question: Why, God, must this all be so?

While unpacking questions regarding the problem of evil are too complex to ever fully address, comfort, as always, can be found only in the cross.

The cross of Christ teaches us many things—one of which is God’s disposition towards suffering.

It gives us a picture of what it meant for God to take on suffering once and for all—to defeat it in his death and resurrection. For Christ to win the war against sin and confront the sickness, grief, and spiritual alienation it brings, he himself had to experience these things. He had to, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities; it is only through his wounds that we are truly healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Among many beautiful things, the cross shows us that God hates suffering—he despises it. It hurts him because it hurts us—beloved creations made in his image and meant for great purposes. One day, his promise is that all the evil surrounding us should come to a final end.

But until then, we labor knowing that we serve a God who plans to serve suffering its final death sentence. He hasn’t abandoned us or our schools; the violence we face is not of his doing.

We place our hope in the promise of his presence with us, recognizing that in our efforts to do justice and love mercy on this earth, we ultimately bring glory to him.

Gabriella Siefert is a junior at Wheaton College and an editorial assistant for The Exchange.

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God in Suffering: Our Response to Too Many School Shootings