I have always been more interested in the questions than the answers. I guess that is because the questions begin conversations and answers, even the good ones, end them.
In the wake of last month’s barbaric shootings in Newtown, Conn., there have been a lot of questions worth pondering. And while there is a sense of urgency, rushing to answers often does not lead to the best result. Even though I remain interested in the questions, here are five things that I am pretty sure of.
1. God does not allow calamities. If you think this through, it is pretty easy to see why it is bad theology. It says that God moves people and events around the globe like a cosmic chessboard. This one dies young, that one survives, this tsunami kills thousands, that drought burns the crops. God intervenes here, ignores there. It is frightful to imagine such a deity and turns God into a capricious demon.
2. God does not visit harm on people as punishment. This one goes hand in hand with the first. Why would I want any part of a God who would recklessly slaughter innocent children to prosecute divine revenge on their wayward parents?
3. God never got kicked out of the classroom. When my daughter was in high school, a teacher from a faith unlike ours commented on the cross she wore around her neck. “Why not just wear an electric chair?” he said in front of the entire class. We had a meeting in which we discussed diversity, the First Amendment, the theology of the cross, and emphasized that he should teach geography and leave the theology to me. Looking at No. 1 and 2 again, how is it possible to conceive of a God that allows disasters and punishes transgressors but can be tossed out of someplace on our initiative? It isn’t. It doesn’t make sense. And keeping matters of faith out of the classroom is not a limitation of my freedom it is an expression of it.
4. Creation is a collaborative work. If I am a piece on the cosmic chessboard there isn’t much use in doing anything. But I am not. Instead I am called into a collaborative relationship with God and neighbor, to be a part of the new creation. This means that if there is something I can do that will make life better for even one individual, I should do it. It also means that I have to find some kind of balance between my individual rights and the larger corporate good.
5. Sometimes the worst provokes out our best. In April of 1965, I was in the heart of the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history. Entire towns were leveled. I do not believe such things happen for a reason, but neighbors came together in unprecedented ways to help each other clean up, rebuild, grieve and somehow find a way to move forward. The memorial service in Newtown was magnificent in its simplicity; hurting people casting aside their differences to comfort each other. In the midst of things that cannot be understood and sadness beyond expression, we will find a way forward by leaning on each other and knowing that God is always among those who suffer.
• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.