Where is God in the Midst of Tragedy
Over the past few days, the community in which I live has been stricken with the reality that we live in a very evil world. On the afternoon of Thursday, June 16, many of our students received word that one of their classmates, Courtney Wilkes, had been brutally murdered while on family vacation in Destin, Florida. Needless to say, the past few days for the lives of many students, adults, and even children in our area have been filled with a tremendous amount of emotion and many, many questions. One of these questions,which I will deal with in this post, has been much of a struggle for me and I really feel a sense of urgency to communicate the truth of the Word of God in dealing with this matter. “So, what’s the question?” you might ask. Here goes… Why would God “cause” or “allow” a death such as this to take place? In this post, I will do my best to share what I believe from an “open theistic” viewpoint in hopes that I can shed some light on this question.
I guess I can begin by saying that I fully believe that God is Omniscient, Omnipotent and that He is completely sovereign. I do not doubt that one bit and there are plenty of Scripture that back up these facts. But on the other hand there are several passages that depict the future as not determined and show God as knowing it as a realm partly comprised of possibilities. With that being said, let me share with you from a biblical standpoint an open theistic view of why I don’t believe God caused this, in the case of Courtney, and why He never would.
Let’s start at the beginning of Scripture with the fall of man through the persons of Adam and Eve. Because of the fact that God gave them the freedom to chose, we inevitably have to deal with the reality of sin and evil. If anyone is to blame, can we blame them? It really is their fault right? Thankfully though, God, in the form of man (JESUS) stepped out of Heaven and gave Himself up on the cross bearing our shame and our sin. We choose to respond to this act of reconciliation by either radically living for Him or not. Whatever we choose, we still deal with evil. Why? Because in our nature, humans are just that… evil. Right off the bat we have this problem of sin and evil, which by the way, God has nothing to do with. And in light of this my first question to the one who would say that God caused something like this would simply be, “Does God having anything to do with sin and evil?” If the answer is no, then how could he cause something like this?
We often see other key points in scripture about the future of humans being partly known and determined by God. This is not to say that God is not all knowing or all powerful, it’s just simply realizing that God can choose to know and do what He desires. I mean He is God. I pulled this next part from an essay on Dr. Greg Boyd’s website which is very helpful in understanding the subject of “Open Theism.”
- The Lord frequently changes his mind in the light of changing circumstances, or as a result of prayer
(Exod. 32:14; Num. 14:12–20; Deut. 9:13–14, 18–20, 25; 1 Sam. 2:27–36; 2 Kings 20:1–7; 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 26:19; Ezek. 20:5–22; Amos 7:1–6; Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4–10). At other times he explicitly states that he will change his mind if circumstances change (Jer. 18:7–11; 26:2–3; Ezek. 33:13–15). This willingness to change is portrayed as one of God’s attributes of greatness (Joel 2:13–14; Jonah 4:2)
- Sometimes God expresses regret and disappointment over how things turned out—sometimes even including the results of his own will
(Gen. 6:5–6; 1 Sam. 15:10, 35; Ezek. 22:29–31)
- At other times he tells us that he is surprised at how things turned out because he expected a different outcome (Isa. 5:3–7; Jer. 3:67; 19–20)
- The Lord frequently tests his people to find out whether they’ll remain faithful to him
(Gen. 22:12; Exod. 16:4; Deut. 8:2; 13:1–3; Judges 2:20–3:5; 2 Chron. 32:31)
- The Lord sometimes asks non-rhetorical questions about the future (Num. 14:11; Hos. 8:5) and speaks to people in terms of what may or may not happen
(Exod. 3:18–4:9; 13:17; Jer. 38:17–18, 20–21, 23; Ezek. 12:1–3)
- The Lord frequently speaks of the future in terms of what may and may not come to pass
(Ex.4:1-7; Ex. 13:17; Ezek 12:3)
Once again, in light of these Scriptures I do not believe that God had anything to do with the terrible act of evil that took place this past week or any other evil act that has or will ever take place. I also do not affirm that this was part of God’s plan for Courtney’s life. The amazing thing about all of this though is the testimony that has come from Courtney’s family over the past few days. They are a family whose faith has not wavered in the midst of this situation and because of that lives have been and will continue to be saved. I’m thankful for their decision to respond to God by trusting Him in the midst of this situation.
Personally I was blessed today by Courtney’s Celebration of Life Service and was amazed at how well Pastor Andy Williams and Pastor Raymond Burrell (Courtney’s Grandfather) shared the truth of the Word of God. I know that they had no desire to impress me, but I must say that her funeral was one of the most well conducted and powerful funerals I have ever taken part in. Both men allowed Courtney to preach her own funeral which was an incredible thing to watch. I was also very blessed to see the support shown from the community in which I live for the Wilkes family. But, none of this is possible without us choosing to respond this way and ultimately this is where the rubber meets the road for all of us.
In closing, I would like to share how thankful I am that although God does not cause or allow evil (it comes at man’s own choice and free will) He will see us through it to the end. Most New Testament writers, especially Paul, constantly dealt with suffering and how suffering helps us relate to Christ. The truth is, God loves us and desires great things from us and for us. Understanding this, we have to also realize that we will suffer. Jesus suffered. Let’s suffer well for the glory of God!