Like you, I’ve seen numerous articles that ask the question, “Where was God at Newtown?” Another question that follows on its heels is, “Why didn’t God do something to stop the evil?”
Many people become atheists because they can’t reconcile a loving and powerful God with the reality of evil, especially an evil like shooting 20 innocent children.
Killing children for whatever reason is not a new thing (Matt. 2:18). Millions have been killed in wars. In fact, our own government has been involved in the killing of innocent civilizations in multiple wars. It’s OK when the State kills. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said as much:
“But let me say, yes. One of the definitions of a nation State is that the State has a monopoly on legitimate violence. And the State ought to have a monopoly on legitimate violence.”
Hitler and Stalin would have loved this guy.
Similar questions about God and evil were asked in the aftermath of the holocaust. The Jewish atheistic theologian Richard Rubenstein is representative of those who believe that the idea of God died in the Nazi gas ovens:
“I am compelled to say,” Rubenstein writes, “that we live in the time of the ‘death of God.’ . . . The thread uniting God and man . . . has been broken. We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful power beyond our own resources. After Auschwitz, what else can a Jew say about God?”1
In April 1985, NBC presented “Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story,” an account of Raoul Wallenberg who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II by bargaining with Nazi officials, establishing safe houses, distributing false passports, disguising Jews in Nazi uniforms, and setting up checkpoints to avert deportations.
During the course of the story, when the viewer is confronted by a scene of wholesale slaughter in a concentration camp, a Jewish teenager turns to a rabbi and confronts him. “How can you still believe in God after all of this?” The rabbi, not needing time to respond, answers: “How can you still believe in man?”
If we live in a “cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful powerful beyond our own resources,”2 then what does it matter that Jews and other “undesirables” were exterminated by the millions? If God is dead or never existed, then there is no basis to say that something is evil. For that matter, there is no right or wrong, meaning or meaninglessness. If in the end, all we are is “dust in the wind,” what does it matter that some of us turn to dust sooner than others?
Not believing in God solves nothing. Once you go down the atheist road, there is no evil to complain about. Stuff happens. Atoms collide with other atoms. Some atoms do better than other atoms.
But back to the question: If God loves us and is powerful enough to stop evil, then why doesn’t He? I was asked this question by a group of agnostics and atheists a while back. I asked them if they had, by their own standard of morality, ever done anything wrong. They all agreed that they had. None of them claimed to have led a perfect life. I then asked them if they believed that God should intervene in stopping evil. Surprisingly, no one said a word. They understood where I was going with the question.
Once we call on God to do something about evil, I suspect that we’ll want to set the limits of what evil we want Him to stop. Consider the number of times each day that we break God’s commandments in thought, word, and deed. It wouldn’t take long before all of us were in deep trouble with God.
God put us here to fix our world. If He intervened every time some evil or hardship arose, our lives would be meaningless. It’s up to us to fix our world.
- Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1966), 151–153. Quoted in Barry R. Leventhal, “Undoing the Death of God,” Christian Research Journal 28:4 (2005), 14. [↩]
- Steven T. Katz, Post-Holocaust Dialogues: Critical Studies in Modern Jewish Thought (New York: New York University Press, 1983), 175. [↩]