On Sunday October 1st my wife and I boarded our Delta flight from Las Vegas back towards Nashville.
We were in the city for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race hosted by Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and tacked on a few days as a ‘getaway’ together as a couple. We had an amazing time exploring the culinary delights and countless shopping venues during our time in the city; but boarded our flight equally excited to be heading back home to our children.
Traveling across time zones always wreaks havoc on me, and by the time we made it home Sunday afternoon we were both wiped. Together we watched Star Wars III with the boys and then called it an early night.
Around 8am on Monday morning I finally opened my eyes (thank you time change) and reached for my phone only to see a plethora of messages.
Friends asking where we were and if we were okay.
I was confused, not uncommon for me when I wake up. In my heart I knew something was askew, and I began trying to wrap my mind around what was happening.
I opened my AP feed and was confronted with the headlines of what had transpired Sunday evening in Las Vegas.
I lost my breath.
As I began responding to messages letting our friends know we were home, I simultaneously went to work trying to figure out if our friends from the NASCAR community who were in the city were okay.
The rest of the day was a fog.
I don’t know if it is because we were in the city earlier that day, because we had friends in the city while the tragedy was unfolding, or because we now know the evil that took place was already set into motion the day we arrived on September 28th; but this tragedy has affected me in a deep, profound way.
I don’t say that to minimize the depth of loss and hurt that countless souls have experienced since Sunday evening, what I have been feeling is really incomparable. Yet the events that transpired have affected me unlike any tragedy has before.
As so many grapple with the intense pain of what transpired, they also wrestle with the questions surrounding them.
From a faith perspective, questions that could rattle ones faith to the core.
Why? Why would God allow 58 individuals to be killed and nearly 500 more injured at the hands of a man filled with evil?
If God is all-loving; why would God allow this tragedy to unfold?
If God is all-powerful; why would God not stop the gunman in his tracks?
If God is all-knowing; why would God not prevent this from happening to begin with?
And one of the most difficult questions…
If God is sovereign; was this shooting part of God’s plan?
Is it that God is not all-loving? Is that God is not all-powerful? Is that God is not all-knowing? Or is that God is not God at all?
Our understanding of God dramatically affects how we process and navigate tragedy in life, and it also dramatically affects how others see God through it.
I continue to wrestle with the nature, sovereignty and character of God amidst tragedy.
My hope and intent in writing this is to ventilate my own thoughts in a way that helps you explore these questions as well…and hopefully find peace and hope along the way.
From what I’ve come to understand from my journey through scripture is that a sovereign God does not mean a god who is a source of evil. As we consider the supremacy of God, God’s rule over everything, we can easily find ourselves viewing evil and sin as a part of God’s plan and design from the beginning.
The tension that exists for many is this. If God is sovereign, God is in control of it all. Even evil. Even what happened in Las Vegas. If God is not over evil, then God is not sovereign.
So is God responsible for evil?
When I think back on the Creation story in the book of Genesis, I see the wonder, delight and beauty of this perfect creation God formed. At the completion of God’s creation we see this, “God saw everything He had made and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Creation was complete, and it was perfect. God was indeed sovereign over creation and it was void of evil…God did not create it as a part of His perfect plan.
1 John 1 reminds us that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. James 1 tells us God is not tempted by evil, and He tempts no one with it. Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 14 that God is not the author of confusion, hence He cannot be the author of evil.
If God is not responsible for evil, why does He allow it?
This is a legitimate question. If God isn’t responsible for evil but is all-powerful, can He not stop it as He pleases?
God created us for love; to be in relationship with Him. The thing about love is that, for it to truly be love, it can never be forced or coerced.
When we were created by God, in His image, we were given free agency, or free will. In essence, we were given the ability to think for ourselves, choose for ourselves and do for ourselves. Without this free agency we could never truly love God.
With great beauty always comes great risk. Amidst our freedom to choose to love God, we also have the freedom to reject God.
This free agency allowed for a lack of moral perfection in our lives, in other words, sin.
We were given the freedom to choose; to deviate from God’s plans, to disrupt and break the perfection for which God created. For God it inject himself into those decisions almost counteracts His own sovereignty. His own design that He wired us with; that freedom of choice…to love or to reject.
It truly is hard to grasp at times, but it is as if the very love of God that was so intense that it had to create us is the love of God that gives us the freedom to destroy ourselves.
By God’s very nature He permits evil.
It is the love of God that ‘lets us be in our decisions’; because removing the ability we have to make bad decisions forces us into good decisions. We, then, are no longer able to love on our own accord rather we become forced followers of God based on His supremacy.
I love the phraseology of what John MacArthur wrote:
God is certainly sovereign over evil. There’s a sense in which it is proper even to say that evil is part of His eternal decree. He planned for it. It did not take Him by surprise. It is not an interruption of His eternal plan. He declared the end from the beginning, and He is still working all things for His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).
But God’s role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends. Ultimately He is able to make all things-including all the fruits of all the evil of all time-work together for a greater good (Romans 8:28).
Coming to this realization can feel quite hopeless. That God allows evil. When we consider the Columbine, World Trade Center attacks, Paris, Orlando, Manchester, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and the countless other tragedies that have dotted our history the weight can almost be too much to bear.
Until we remember God’s sovereignty. Evil may not originate from God, but God is never surprised by it. He is never taken off guard. And He is never wasting it. God’s sovereignty still places Himself above our deviations from His plans; above our sin. He uses it.
I like to look at it like this:
Our son Micah loves to build with LEGO bricks, and he builds some pretty remarkable things. The first thing he does every time he finishes one of his new creations is that he cradles it in his arms and runs with it from his LEGO room to wherever we are.
When he was younger, sometimes the creation didn’t make it.
He would stumble and it would fall, shattering across the floor.
What always followed were his heartbroken sobs, because what once was beautiful to him is now broken all over the floor.
As he would look down at the broken pieces, we are able to come alongside him and gather the pieces up into a pile and assess the damage. An evaluation is made of the broken pieces and the remnants of what ‘once was’, and then something beautiful is built out of the broken pieces on top of what was left.
Something cool is built from something broken.
What we never did as parents is hide behind the sofa and jump out to knock the LEGO creation out of his hands in order to teach him a greater truth or to build a better creation than what he assembled.
We do not cause harm just to orchestrate a better good. There are times that we have to punish him in life, but he knows when it is punishment (I would say the same is true when God is disciplining someone, they are aware).
Understand this, I am not trying to diminish the omnipotence of God. God can do what He wants, when He wants, how He wants. I will never fully understand that. To be honest, I don’t want to understand that. A God that can be fully understood and defined by man is likely no God at all. The mysteries of God are beautiful.
Some things in life happen because God sets it into motion, and some things in life just happen. We are free beings, with free choice and free will. As a result we make poor choices and those poor choices can affect others whether they want it to or not.
Sometimes our lives are shattered into hundreds of pieces across the floor, just because.
Not because God planned it for some greater purpose, but because it ‘just happened’ as a result of free agency or as a result of sin.
This is why Romans 8:18-28 is so beautiful to me. As the comparison of our present suffering to our future hope collide, we read a beautiful statement in Romans 8:28,
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We acknowledge that even in the brokenness of this world, God can redeem.
In essence, God looks at our broken pieces that are scattered across the ground, He pulls them in close to assess everything, and then says “here, lets build something special out of this brokenness.”
The brokenness that happened being redeemed. Restoration.
We live in a world that is full of hope and desperation at the same time. A world that leaves our lives beautifully broken.
I am thankful that God is with us, and that He can pick up the pieces of our lives and build something beautiful with them; no only for ourselves, but for others out of our situation.
That is my hope in tragedy and suffering. May it be yours too.
My prayers continue to be with those who were affected by the latest evil in Las Vegas, that they, too, would experience God redeeming the brokenness. That God would be their strength and their hope.