“Joy to the World,” even Newtown, Connecticut–a response to a t-shirt with a false message.

A wise friend of mine wrote this response to those who posted on Facebook a picture of the t-shirt, “God, why do you allow violence in schools” with the answer being that he is not welcomed there, a popular religious answer to the tragedy in Connecticut:

L, this way of looking at the tragedy in Connecticut makes me very sad. Horrible, terrible, violent things happen in places and to people where God is welcomed, spoken to, cried out to, day after day. Although none of my children are currently in public school, they have all attended, at various times, and for multiple years, our local elementary and middle school. There is no way it would be honest for them to believe that public prayers not being allowed at their school would (1) keep God out of there or (2) remove them from the sovereign care of God for whatever time they are there, at a public school.

On the other hand, it would not be healthy or honest for them to think that when they are in church or in any other place where God is publicly "welcomed" they are absolutely safe from tragedy or violence or suffering. They are not. Safety and protection from suffering and violence is not something we are guaranteed, even when/though we are walking in God’s presence and care. Being in a place where God is welcomed does not create a cloak of invincibility around us, nor does being in a place where some people do not welcome God take us out from under God’s care. (I intentionally do not use the word "protection" because God does not guarantee protection from suffering or violence on us, in this fallen world, and yet we do continue to trust he cares for us in this world.)

There are no good answers (and certainly no simple ones) to tragedy and suffering, and when we put answers out there like "God wasn’t welcome in the public school, so that’s why he allowed violence there" we cheapen the suffering of people (including believers in that school who certainly were praying and crying out to the Lord before, during and after the CT tragedy), and we back ourselves into a theological corner when similar tragedies happen where God was and has always been clearly welcomed.

The shooting in Connecticut was tragic and desperately sad, and I do hear and share your deeply saddened and rightly angered heart for the victims and their families. Facing the sadness by taking up God’s defense with what this t-shirt communicates, however, adds sadness, and I believe mis-truth, on top of the sadness that already is.

My favorite verse of a Christmas carol is from “Joy to the World.” I believe tragedies like this happen because of sin, and the curse of sin and the fall. And I believe that Christ’s birth and eventual death and resurrection prove that he comes to make (and he will make) "his blessings known, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found….." For today, I have to trust that somehow, some way that includes what happens in Connecticut, in an elementary school, where nothing, not even the curse of the fall, could keep out God’s care and somehow, someway, hopefully even his blessing. It’s not an answer, but it is a bit of a comfort.

May you and your children (as I also hope for me and mine) find comfort and peace today in God’s care, in a world full of the curse, and yet touched and covered by the blessings he brought to earth, when he became flesh, like us, to live and die and rise again, amidst sin and violence, with those who welcomed him and those who did not. Hurting with you, and the rest of the country today,

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