I must admit that I have been resisting writing about the tragic event of this past Friday in Newtown, CT, but I now find myself at the breaking point where I have had enough and need to address some things. It isn’t the event itself, for many have addressed that situation better than I ever could, but, rather, some of the responses and comments that have been made by conservative Christian leaders that, in my opinion, reveal an understanding of Scripture and God that never really and truly got out of the Old Testament and how God interacted with people and his creation under that scheme and covenantal relationship.
The first type of comment is that this tragic event is somehow God’s judgment upon this nation for sin, usually sin around the issue of homosexuality. I have seen public figures like Mike Huckabee and James Dobson make comments that this event was part of God’s judgment upon this nation because of gay marriage and homosexuality and, of course, groups like Westboro Baptist Church making the same type of claim.
This type of relationship with God where our actions will either bring God’s blessing or cursing/judgment upon us is firmly based upon the old covenant. It was under the old covenant (read Old Testament) the relationship between people and God was of a conditional nature. God told the people of Israel that if they obeyed his law and commands, he would bless them and they would experience that blessing in practical ways. On the other hand, if they disobeyed his commands and law, then he would bring upon them curses/judgment. This is the type of relationship that comments like those made by Huckabee, Dobson and Westboro have as their basis.
The new covenant which God instituted through and because of Jesus is unconditional. First, in Ephesians 1:3, Paul tells us that God, through Jesus, has already given us all the spiritual blessings possible. There isn’t anything I can do in order to earn or experience more blessing from God’s hand such as was the case under the old covenant. And by association, if the positive part of the old covenant is no longer valid, neither is the negative part.
According to Colossians 1:19-20, God’s current relationship with his creation is one which he views on his part as reconciled and at peace because of Jesus and his work upon the cross. When someone is at peace with another, it is only an evil person who attacks the person with whom he is at peace (think Hitler here as an example). And God is not evil. Therefore, he does not attack those with whom he is at peace. That means he does not rain judgment down upon them in the form of evil acts. Also, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. That also doesn’t sound like someone who rains judgment upon people. And for a group like Westboro Baptist to rejoice at the death from what they consider “God’s judgment for sin” demonstrates that they truly do not understand God’s character for God has never rejoiced in judgment, only sadness. And, when they rejoice, they reveal that they really don’t know who God truly is, much like the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day. It was because of these religious leaders’ attitude and behavior in response to what Jesus was doing that caused him to proclaim to them, “You have never heard the Father’s voice nor seen his form nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:37a-40)
What those individuals and groups who proclaim this tragic event as God’s judgment upon this nation for a certain sin must remember is that, since this is part of the old covenant, those who follow a part of the old covenant must follow all of it. Paul’s words of Galatians 5:2-3 tells us that anyone who allows himself to be obligated to a part of the Law is obligated to all of it. If God’s relationship is still characterized by the old covenant, then it all is in play. Therefore, I would expect them to be consistent in this regard, though I know they will not be. For every sin they commit, they should experience God’s judgment in their lives. For every instance where they proclaim, “God has said,” and he hasn’t, they should experience incredible and practical judgment in their lives. For every instance of not loving mercy and not walking humbly with God, they should experience that same judgment. If they want to live under that type of relationship, they are free to do so. As for me, I will take the relationship under a true relationship based upon grace and mercy through Jesus and God’s viewing himself as reconciled to his creation and being at peace with it.
There are others who have stated that if prayer had not been removed from the school house back in the 1960’s, this tragic event would not have happened. What that view presupposes is that this type of event did not occur before that Supreme Court decision. Obviously, that is not the case as some have so well documented. Their statement, then, about this being the cause is a logical fallacy because a necessary presupposition is false. And I will not use this occasion to once again reiterate my opposition to formal prayer in schools.
How then does God figure into all of this? Unfortunately, acts like this are a natural outcome of sin and evil in this world. Because of his relationship with creation as it now stands, God does allow us to experience consequences of evil in this world. It saddens him that this is the course humanity has chosen. But it also does make him rejoice when he sees people expressing grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and the rest of his character in our dark, dark world. It is through that expression that hope comes in very real ways. It is through this expression that people experience the true reality of who God is.
I am saddened by people who either rejoice in tragic events like the one of this past Friday as well as when people demonstrate an improper understanding of God’s relationship with his creation because of the new covenant through Jesus.
It is my prayer that those around me and who know me will always experience, see and encounter who God really and truly is.