Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sandy Hook, Free Will & Tragedy. What Is The Relationship?

Since the unfortunate murders of over 26 fellow Americans in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the question has been posed over and over, why God did not stop the killer from killing innocent children and professionals taking care of them? 

We have to acknowledge that this is a valid sentiment and one that makes sense from a human standpoint. However, we also must acknowledge that we may never know many of life's mysteries but because we don't know something doesn't mean that there is no valid reason for it. 

The Character, Nature & The Existence Of God Called Into Question

The questions that we hear regarding the Sandy Hook tragedy are age old. It is simply the Problem of Evil or what is called The Epicurean Paradox. Here is a version of it, applicable to this discourse: 
  • If God is anything, he must be all powerful and have the ability to do anything including prevent tragedy. 
  • If he is God he certainly he could have stopped the gunman, by either saving him then and there on the spot, striking him dead beforehand or even causing his gun to jam or any number of things that would have prevented him from doing what he did BEFORE the killing rampage. 

The final part to this thought is that 

  • If God is indifferent, he is not good and therefore not God, or 
  • If he is powerless to prevent tragedy, he is not God as he would not be all powerful. 
The deduction here is that God simply doesn't exist. Although the first premise is flawed and invalidates all the others parts to the paradox, I believe that this is one of the primary arguments being levied as it pertains to God and religion in the Sandy Hook case or experience.  

What Can Be Said?

Many things...In reality, I know some people who are saved today because God stopped or redirected a 

bullet or a murderer. Sometimes God creates a medical miracle in order to save. Former Senator Kathleen Jeffords is an example. Though her life is forever changed because of a tragic attempt on her life, and though others died in the shooting intended to take her life, she yet is among the living and is a medical miracle.  

Further, I believe it was on Sept. 20th 1958 that Dr. Martin L. King was stabbed in the chest at a book signing in Harlem, NY. Dr. King was hospitalized, but yet lived because the wound was less than an inch away from a vital artery. So at the very least God preserved him for a season. However, 10 years later, in 1968, the bullet that would eventually take Dr. King's life was undeterred and did not miss it's mark. Unfortunately, for all of us, so it seems, Dr. King, one of the nations greatest civil rights leaders, was dead.

So why does God allow tragedy especially to come upon the "innocent"?

This was the same question posed when we examined the tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti. Haiti was filled with the poor and economically disadvantaged. So what pleasure did god have in destroying them as a nation of people? As was stated then, one thing is for sure, God doesn't author evil and is not tempted to do evil. However God does bring about judgement and he judges without impunity or partiality, but all things that happen are NOT authored or sponsored by God and one cannot automatically assume that God did, created or sent a tragedy. With that said, nothing, including evil, is a surprise to him. Therefore God can employ evil to do his bidding for his own purposes and move even in that evil to accomplish his will. 

Innocence. Actual Or Presumed?

The fact is that moral evil is done by a person submitting their "free will" to do certain actions. I will deal with the "free will" response in this post, but there are some things that I can say even prior to that. The first observation is that, in comparison to a holy and just God, no one is "innocent": 

Romans 3:23 ~ For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Some may be less guilty than others, but the whole concept is that man is a sinner even vicariously, thus one may be "innocent" before man, but none are "innocent" before God or outside of HIS grace and mercy. 

So with that said, we must look at a popular response to this incident, which has made much chatter on TV and in the general public on evil and why these kids suffered the fate that they did....     

"God Was Not Welcome"...And "HE Is A Gentleman"

This is the general sentiment posed by many mainline religious teachers and believers as it pertains to why God allowed these 26 souls to enter eternity. Rev. Bryan Fischer has been criticized without mercy due to his statements linking the killing of kids with God being unwanted in public schools and too much of a "gentleman" to be involved with saving the children from such a horrific death. 

There are many problems with this sort of answer however. Obviously, I don't know of a person too gentlemanly to stop injustice, especially when that injustice is being done to children or the disadvantaged...Secondly, God is everyplace beholding good and evil and out of all the problems in the school, I am somehow confident that God is yet there. Christians do both still yet teach and attend school no matter the circumstances. Third, the church is not exempt from tragedy. We can point to many horrific events that took place in the church. So this type of excuse or reason becomes a very bad notation and only calls the character of God and his people into question. 

To prove this point, the following list was compiled by a Facebook friend. This is a small sample of some churches and other religious gatherings that have experienced similar bloodshed in modern times:

*February 14, 2010 - Richmond, California - Three hooded men
walk into Gethsemane Church of God in Christ and opened
fire and then fled the scene, as the singing of the choir
was replaced by frightened screams. The two victims, a 14-
year-old boy and a 19-year-old man, were hospitalized.

*March 8, 2009 - Maryville, Illinois - Suspect Terry Joe
Sedlacek, 27, of Troy, walks into the First Baptist Church,
and shoots pastor Fred Winters dead, point blank. Several
church members are injured by a knife in the struggle to
capture after the attack, The suspect also had stabbed
himself, but survived, when his gun jams.

*July 27, 2008 - Knoxville, Tennessee - A gunman opens fire
in a church during a youth performance, killing two people
and injuring seven.

*Dec. 9, 2007 - Colorado - Three people are killed and five
wounded in two shooting rampages, one at a missionary
school in suburban Denver and one at a church in Colorado
Springs. The gunman in the second incident is killed by a

*May 20, 2007 - Moscow, Idaho - A standoff between police
and a suspect in the shootings of three people in a
Presbyterian Church ended with three dead, including one
police officer.

*Aug. 12, 2007 - Neosho, Missouri - First Congregational
Church - 3 killed - Eiken Elam Saimon shot and killed the
pastor and two deacons and wounded five others.

*May 21, 2006 - Baton Rouge, Louisiana - The Ministry of
Jesus Christ Church - 4 killed - The four at the church who
were shot were members of Erica Bell's family; she was
abducted and murdered elsewhere; Bell's mother, church
pastor Claudia Brown, was seriously wounded - Anthony Bell,
25, was the shooter.

*Feb. 26, 2006 - Detroit, Michigan - Zion Hope Missionary
Baptist Church - 2 killed + shooter - Kevin L. Collins, who
reportedly went to the church looking for his girlfriend,
later killed himself.

*April 9, 2005 - College Park, Georgia - A 27-year-old
airman died after being shot at a church, where he had once
worked as a security guard.

*March 12, 2005 - Brookfield, Wisconsin - Living Church of
God - 7 killed + shooter - Terry Ratzmann opened fire on
the congregation, killing seven and wounding four before
taking his own life.

*July 30, 2005 - College Park, Georgia - World Changers
Church International - shooter killed - Air Force Staff
Sgt. John Givens was shot five times by a police officer
after charging the officer, following violent behavior.

*Dec. 17, 2004, Garden Grove, Calif.: A veteran musician at
the Crystal Cathedral shoots himself to death after a nine
-hour standoff.

*Oct. 5, 2003 - Atlanta, Georgia - Turner Monumental AME
Church - 2 killed + shooter - Shelia Wilson walked into the
church while preparations are being made for service and
shot the pastor, her mother and then herself.

*June 10, 2002 - Conception, Missouri - Benedictine
monastery - 2 killed + shooter - Lloyd Robert Jeffress shot
four monks in the monastery killing two and wounding two,
before killing himself.

*March 12, 2002 - Lynbrook, New York - Our Lady of Peace
Catholic Church - 2 killed - Peter Troy, a former mental
patient, opens fire during Mass, killing the priest and a
parishioner. He later receives a life sentence.

*May 18, 2001 - Hopkinsville, Kentucky - Greater Oak
Missionary Baptist Church - 2 killed - Frederick Radford
stood up in the middle of a revival service and began
shooting at his estranged wife, Nicole Radford, killing her
and a woman trying to help her.

*Sept. 15, 1999 - Fort Worth, Texas - Wedgewood Baptist
Church - 7 killed + shooter - Larry Gene Ashbrook shot dead
seven people and injured a further seven at a concert by
Christian rock group Forty Days in Fort Worth, Texas before
killing himself.

*April 15, 1999 - Salt Lake City, Utah - LDS Church Family
History Library - 2 killed + shooter - Sergei Babarin, 70,
with a history of mental illness, entered the library,
killed two people and wounded four others before he was
gunned down by police.

I'll add the murder committed in College Park, GA. by Floyd Palmer at World Changers Church Int. (Creflo Dollar's church) in Oct. 2012. 

Are we to say that God was not welcome in ALL of these places? Was God not a "gentleman" as it pertains to protecting people many of whom had dedicated their lives to HIS service? 

Then there was the persecution of the early Christian church. Many Christians were burned alive and killed in all sorts of tragic ways for their faith. So to say that things like this happen because God is not welcomed is somewhat of a stretch if not down right untrue. It is a play toward the "culture" and not necessarily a play on why things happen to believers. 

Unfortunately, we can acknowledge quite successfully, that there has been considerable opposition to both school prayer, bible reading and any mention of God in the public school system. That is the same as America in general isn't it? So there is an element of this that cannot be denied, but to draw a one to one correlation is above what can and should be done as that cannot be proven scripturally or otherwise. 

So to what can this type of tragedy, which is what is called a moral evil, be attributed? I believe the best response in this case is the free will of man.  

Free Will. What Is It?

Now, there is a push to find a psychological problem or psychological reason as to why Adam Lanza went on such a killing rampage. The talking heads on TV make one think they personally witnessed his Rx. and everything he took or didn't take for his "condition" To DATE, there is no evidence that the young man was either on medications or being treated for any psychological disorder. So all that we are hearing at this point is speculation. 

In a materialistic world that is tragic. Why? There are two reasons and they are not good for materialism. 

Reason #1- Adam was acting on a prior or pre-historic inherited past genetic abnormality. In lieu of the fact that there was no birth or genetic disorder, many of the more  hard line materialists would hold that he was acting off of some genetic holdover of "survival of the fittest" gone wrong. The problem is that this option destroys free will of the individual. In other words Adam could not possibly have acted any different than what his genetics told him to act. He was morally bound to do what he did and was not free to chose otherwise. 

So was he genetically constrained or not? If not, and you are still a materialist, then you are left with reason number 2...

Reason # 2- If these actions did not originate or come from the physical brain or as a result of some genetic process, then there is a reality separate from the physical brain or genetics that influences actions and behavior. If that is the case, these abilities and propensities originate apart from the physical body. If that is the case, there is a immaterial aspect of man apart from the brain or body which houses certain realities that at least influence thoughts and imagination if they are not thoughts and imagination themselves. This is a description of a place that the bible calls the heart of man. In this case, the admission must be that both evil and the 'heart" are of unknown relative position to the physical body. Therefore, they (evil and the heart) are immaterial in their existence and reality. 

This is a death sentence to the materialist as he or she would hold that there is nothing that exists outside of  material existence or the physical reality of the brain. So from whence do these things come and where are they housed? Even if my reason 2 is incorrect, how does the immaterial reality of the heart interface with or influence our behavior? 

Like President Obama said, that question "is above my pay grade" and I cannot write a dissertation in this space on it(or at least for free), but I will say this...for man to be truly "free" he has to have the ability to be able to make a choice with whatever information that he is given because he wants to do so, and not because he is made to do so.        

"Free will" has existed as an attribute of man since his creation. Man was given the ability to freely chose his destiny and actions even though he was also given compelling reasons to follow a specified course of action. 

Genesis 2: 16-1716-And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17-But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. 

Free will is man's unfettered ability to make a choice. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not centered in man's ability to make any choice, but to make A choice without duress. In other words, free will is exhibited even if the choices are limited. The freedom is in not being forced or coerced into a choice. be clear, free will has nothing to do with compelling reasons to make a choice, but it does have everything to do with the feeling of duress in making a choice. 

(although I am not a lawyer, and this is NOT rendered as legal advice)

I am told that under current contract law, that a contract is not valid IF a person enters into the contract under duress. It could be considered a form of "duress" if a family member's life or one's own life is threatened in the process or to make one enter into a contract.  However, if a person is faced with the probability or possibility of loss (such as repossession of a car or some other personal item) due to failure to enter into a contract, that is not a form of duress under law. That would be a compelling reason to act. therefore a contract entered into to avoid those things would be valid under law.    

So there is a balance between free will and duress. For free will to be true free will, one has to have  freedom to chose. Factors can influence the decision, but the exercise of the choice should be a free exercise free of duress based on the choices that are available.

Why Did God Not Intervene At Sandy Hook Elementary?

First how is anyone confident that God didn't intervene at Sandy Hook?  Absence of evidence, is not evidence of absence. One thing is certain, the killer planned on killing many more children and citizens than he did, but for the actions of some brave souls and heroes and some "oversights" on his behalf. Further, some of the brave women that stood in defense of those children to the point of giving their life, defies naturalism. The act of sacrifice is a biblical moral value religiously centered. This act was displayed by Christ himself in the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life for our sins. This is a religiously inspired moral value and is especially the heart of Christianity.  This was not developed under a "self preserving" "survival of the fittest" or "natural selection" motif. Under naturalism there would be no compelling reason to save anyone but one's own self. 

Now we know that Richard Dawkins has attempted to say that altruism is developed within cultures through a certain "meme" based on what is called "the selfish gene theory"...What Dawkins asserts is often confused as the process of evolution, but what it is is only a process of natural selection.(click link for clarification of this point) To simplify, what we know from a sociological  standpoint is that individual cultures seem to want their culture to survive and live. Those things are understandable, but please! Mankind as a whole goes in quite the opposite direction when it comes to sacrificing one's self for the benefit of others. Yet we observe sacrifice for those unknown to us and even cross culturally everyday. Evolution has no explanation for this outside of a religiously inspired value system and motif that encourages self sacrifice as one of the highest values among mankind even cross culturally. 

Stopping A Killer's Free Will

Certainly God could have sopped the exercise of the killer's free will. However, we should ask, at what point does God destroy free will and for what set of causes does God do this? What criteria should be used to stop the enterprise of "free will"? If man is not a free will moral agent then man becomes an automaton or a robot. If that is the case, then man cannot be held responsible for ANY action that he performs. In that process, then ALL actions become JUSTIFIABLE. 

Imagine this...God strips men of free will to stop and event from man is unaccountable for his actions...Where is JUSTICE? Where does it go? I'll tell does not cannot exist as man can not be responsible for actions. The fact is that by the process of destroying "free will" God would be destroying man. So in effect what the critic is asking is for God to destroy man or mankind arbitrarily in the process to keep a killer committing evil acts from doing what he does. 

Quickly: God revealing himself to Paul on the road to Damascus was not an intervention or alteration of Paul's free will. It was the extension of an alternate life and choice that Paul took advantage of. Paul's decision to follow Christ was a display of free will in action. certainly in an ultimate sense is was God who called him, but PAUL made the choice to follow.  


As Christians, when addressing this issue, we should realize five things...

1- God was present at Sandy Hook and was not and is not indifferent towards suffering. 
2- God did not inspire such acts and tragedy.  
3- The free will of man has an effect on the life and free will of other men even if unintentionally. 
4- Man because he has free will, has the ability to actualize evil and that ability effects others. 
5- This life is not the end or culmination of all things. There is what is known as an eternal reality. The resurrection of Jesus is the proof and earnest of that expectation. 
6- There will be a reconciliation of all things. Justice will be delivered in an ultimate sense for what has happened and all evil visited upon men by the free will of others shall be accounted for and judged.

The killer in the sandy hook murders does not have the final say about the eternal disposition of the victims. Naturalism exalts the killer to the status of a god in his own right. He become the decider of fate and the dispenser of either joy or pain. He is NOT that.  God is God all by himself and Adam Lanza will stand before God and give an account for what he did and each one of his victims will be there to acknowledge it. 

Thank God, that in the Christian world view and paradigm, THIS is NOT the end. This children will be held by their parents again one day. It is our mission to pray for them and uphold them now and we the members of New Bethel COGIC and those of I Am My Brother's Keeper Christian Advocacy Council, stand with these families and the survivors of Sandy Hook and the sandy Hook community. 

I will depart with the scriptures that President Obama quoted at the community vigil. 

2 Cor. 4: 16-1816-For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17-For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18-While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 

2 Cor. 5: 1 ~ For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens


Also See:
A "National Conversation"..."We Can Do Better Than This"

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