Newtown, CT

Why? Why, if there is a loving God who cares about the creation, who loves every human being, who particularly loves the little ones, do things like this continue to happen?

That question is as old as human history and is asked every time a tragedy happens and innocent people suffer and die. It was asked of me this morning, the day after the school shooting in Newtown, CT, by one of my oldest and best friends. He is a retired school administrator who gave his life to the education and nurture of children and young people. He is a genuinely good man who wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to children, and who also happens to know how to run a great school. He has three children of his own and four grandchildren. He called them all last night, he told me, just to talk and connect and touch them. I was his pastor for eight years and his friend during that time and ever since. We have talked about important topics over the years, so at 8:00 Saturday morning he called me and asked simply, “Why?”

There is no simple answer. But there is a faith context in which to ponder what happened and the deeper question of why. And it has everything in the world to do with what we believe about God.There are many different images of God in the bible: King, Shepherd, Warrior, to name a few . The one most helpful to me and the one to which I have related personally over the years is the image of a parent, a loving father. That is what Jesus called God, by the way, “Abba” the Aramaic word (the language Jesus and his disciples spoke) for father used in the intimacy of a family circle, the best translation of which is “Daddy”

God as loving, caring, nurturing parent. I know a little bit about that, as all parents do, about the limits of parenting. You cannot love your children genuinely and at the same time keep them from all harm. To protect them from the risk of all harm would necessarily mean severely, maybe totally, limiting their freedom, their capacity to grow, mature, blossom into healthy adults. Loving parents know deeply the pain of risk . You have to love your child enough to to allow him or her the freedom to get hurt, one day to walk down the sidewalk alone on the way to school, to cross a busy street corner, ride a bike, drive a car, leave the security of home and go to college.

Loving a child is, in one respect, an exercise in granting freedom and risking, every single time, that this will turn out badly. It is precisely because you love them so deeply that you grant them the risks of freedom.

And so, the best idea of God I know is that of a loving parent: a Creator who lovingly creates the world and everything in it and then grants freedom and the risks that accidents may happen, that things can go wrong, sometimes terribly wrong.

God’s response, I believe, is not to intercede and forcefully protect – although who doesn’t want that? – any more than a loving parent keeps a child safely and securely at home always. God’s response is , like a parent, to suffer with those who suffer, to grieve with those who grieve, to stand close and hold us tightly, wipe away tears, bind up wounds. That’s what a father or mother does.


  1. Cynthia Gray says:

    Mark Nelson shared your blog, and an article from the “New York Times” that included the following advise for parents: “I’ll remember that a hug sometimes says the only reassuring thing there is to say.”
    You were missed today…….

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