Syria, Doha, & Aurora: When Children Suffer Or Die, Where Is God?

In tragic events around the world, children routinely find themselves to be helpless victims – whether through natural disasters, wars, human trafficking, or rampages by killers. In recent months, I think of three horrifying events involving children (but there are so many, many more):

#1 – On May 26th, the shelling attack on Houla, a group of villages northwest of the central city of Homs, killed more than 90 people, including at least 32 children under the age of 10. Reports said many had stab wounds or shots to the head. “Some of the victims were hit by heavy artillery while others, entire families, were massacred,” said a member of the Syrian National Council.

(In a June 2012 United Nations report on Syria, it said children as young as 9 years old have been victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and sexual violence, and have been used as human shields. Most child victims of torture described being beaten, blindfolded, subjected to stress positions, whipped with heavy electrical cables, scarred by cigarette burns and in one case subjected to electrical shock to the genitals, the report said.)

#2 – On May 28th, a fire in the Villagio Mall in Doha, Qatar claimed the lives of 19 people, including 13 children.

I have been in this beautiful mall many times. I love Doha, the Qatari people, and the large ex-patriate population that works there. This was very sad to me, particularly the loss of children – including a set of triplets.

#3 – Just 2 nights ago on July 20th, the world was again horrified when a lone gunman went into a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado and went on an evil rampage killing 12 and wounding 58. It was among the worst mass shootings in American history. Some of these victims were children.

Our family has been to this theatre many times. (One of our relatives was supposed to be there that night but there was a change in his work schedule!)

When these tragedies occur – especially when children suffer and die – what are we to think?

To my Muslim readers and friends, when you hear of events like this, how do you react? I know you believe God rules the universe but how do you respond in your heart and mind? How does “inshallah” and “mashallah” – thoughts about the will of God – affect your thinking? Is it “harram” (“forbidden” for my Christian readers) to question God in times like this? Even to raise questions while still maintaining deep respect for Him?

To my Christian readers and friends, when tragedies occur, what do you think and feel? Do you say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (from Job 1:21)? Or do you blame everything like this on Satan and his demons? Do you believe God “permitted” it? Is it “sinful” to question God in such tragedies?

So the subject of this blog post are the questions people often ask during tragedies:

Where was God?

How could He let this happen?

Is God good but not ultimately in control?

Is God in control but not ultimately good?

Even with all the wisdom in my Bible, I still don’t pretend to understand these deep issues of life and death on this planet. Honestly. . .I struggle.

But a few years ago I came across a book by Joni Earickson Tada and Steve Estes entitled When God Weeps that has helped me understand just a little bit about suffering and tragedy from a Biblical perspective. About the one, true God who is completely loving and completely powerful (totally in control).

Here is an Amazon book review of When God Weeps:

“If God is loving, why is there suffering? What’s the difference between permitting something and ordaining it? When bad things happen, who’s behind them–God or the devil? When suffering touches our lives, questions like these suddenly demand an answer. From our perspective, suffering doesn’t make sense, especially when we believe in a loving and just God. After more than thirty years in a wheelchair, Joni Eareckson Tada’s intimate experience with suffering gives her a special understanding of God’s intentions for us in our pain. In When God Weeps, she and lifelong friend Steven Estes probe beyond glib answers that fail us in our time of deepest need. Instead, with firmness and compassion, they reveal a God big enough to understand our suffering, wise enough to allow it, and powerful enough to use it for a greater good than we can ever imagine.”

What do you think?

Syria, Doha, & Aurora Colorado.

When people – especially children – suffer and die, where is God?

22 thoughts on “Syria, Doha, & Aurora: When Children Suffer Or Die, Where Is God?

  1. There have been numerous studies performed that state overall violent crime is at an all time low since 1994. The irony in all of this is that as the years pass, the press seems to glorify these stories by running them a multitude of times during the day and the evening. A disturbed individual watches this and notices the noterity that perpetrator receives. To me, society is feeding the beast, it is feeding the hate, it is feeding the violence. More often than not we hear about video games being the reason these atrocities happen. I do not buy it for a minute. We have to teach our children about right and wrong. We have to guide them and hopefully mold them into better people than we are. I blame the society that is trying to banish God from our schools, our country, and other countries. Freedom is not free, it is bought and paid for with human lives. Am I a perfect parent? I think not. I do however choose to teach my children what is right and what is wrong. This may have been a good kid at one time. We do not know and I feel that we should not speculate. I do believe that at this point and time the media is one of the many problems with society today. Once upon a time there was responsibility in journalism. Where has that gone today?

    • Kirk,

      I truly appreciate your response here.

      The media is at times our best friend and at times our worst enemy. Don’t you think this is true?

      We need media reports about tragedies like this but how much?

      And as you say, in the case of deranged individuals, how does such an extreme amount of media coverage influence them in their desire to have a moment of fame – even if it costs so many others their lives?

      A real dilemma to be sure.

      And yes, I so agree that we have a huge responsibility to teach our children right and wrong in a strong but loving way. Maybe the parents of James Holmes did just that. We don’t know. Let us pray for them. Even for James Holmes himself. And of course. . .for all the victims and their families.

      • Thanks for asking the questions about suffering. We would have no answer unless God himself embraced suffering and accepted unjust violence against his Son. I’ve been helped by Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God, in which the author reminds us

        “Though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experieince of pain, it provides deep resouces for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than with bitterness and despair.” (28)

        “So, if we embrace the Christian teaching that Jesus is God and that he went to the cross, then we have deep consolation and strength to face the brutal realities of life on earth. We can know that God is truly Immanuel – God with us – even in our worst sufferings.” (31)

        • Benjamin, your Tim Keller quotes are very thought-provoking. Thank you. But I liked what you said just as much – that God has embraced suffering in Himself and accepted unjust violence against Jesus.

          I truly believe that God knows suffering. God has not made Himself above it. That is the God who comforts me in my suffering. That is a God I can call upon.

  2. Where is God in times of tragedy like this?

    God comes to where he’s invited. He comes into the lives of the humble and contrite. He comes to those who earnestly seek Him. God hangs out with his friends, those who love Him and follow his ways. He is with them in times of trouble. Yes, he was with every person in that theater who wanted Him; either to protect them or to take them to the glorious home that he has prepared for them.

    Throughout history God has always desired good for his children. He weeps at tragedy and his heart is broken by injustice. That is why at great cost and sacrifice of Himself he has provided a way, through Jesus, to bring peace to the world.

    So? Why this tragedy in Aurora? Why all the wars and fighting and injustice in the world? Why the murders? Why the shedding of innocent blood? It is not because he doesn’t care. It is not because he doesn’t love us. It is because we have rejected Him. We have chosen to live our lives without Him. We do not want the help he has so kindly offered us.

    Evil permeates the world. In our pride we say we can handle it. But we can’t. It is too powerful for us. We can’t even see it until it manifests itself in some great malevolent event like this. God did not want this to happen. It should come as no surprise to us. I wholeheartedly agree with Kirk. These things happen when we as a society decide to live without Him.

    • Brother Bob,

      This is so good. I really thank you. Great words of wisdom.

      We need God in our society! We must turn back to Him as a culture. . .before it is too late.

  3. God was certainly in Aurora, as demonstrated by the fact that a number of gentlemen laid down their lives for those they loved and the fact that the man did not kill more. I think it is important for us to question God at times, if you have a real question. But you’d better be ready for Him to ask you a good number of questions as well, eh?

    • Mert,

      Great response. I believe Satan was in Aurora that night. He was working powerfully. Jesus said Satan is a thief who came to steal, kill, and destroy (New Testament/Injeel: Gospel of John 10:10).

      But I also – like you – believe God was certainly in Aurora for just the reasons you mentioned.

      And you are so wise to say that we can ask God questions (I believe respectfully, not accusatively) but we had better be ready to be asked questions by God ourselves – questions that will put us in our place. Job experienced the weight of these questions and could not bear up under them.

      He is the Potter. I am the clay.

      I submit to His running of His universe.

      And I ask Him to show me how to be aware of and defeat Satan in the spiritual warfare we face.

  4. I believe that God is good and intends good for us. If God did not allow things to happen, even the bad, we would not really be free. We would be his puppets. God wants us because we want to be his, not because he wills it.

    There are so many Christians who have truly sacrificed. God knows their pain and will be with all who ask. He will see us through it.

    My faith has not really been challenged. I have not suffered as so many have. I pray that my faith will be strong enough to endure should I ever meet challenges that so many Christians do today and have for ages before.

    • May, thanks for your comments.

      I so agree that God is good and intends good for us but. . .sometimes God’s definition of good and our definition of good are not the same. God wants what is ultimately good for us. We want the immediate good for ourselves. There can be a big difference, don’t you think?

      Also, the Bible teaches that I belong to God because He chose me. In my utter sinfulness, I could not choose Him. In the wise words of someone, “People can’t find God for the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman: he is not looking for him.” Yes, we choose God in a way – but only because He first chose us and enabled/empowered us to choose Him!

      John 15:16
      “You did not choose me, but I chose you. . .”

      1 John 4:19
      “We love because he first loved us.”

  5. Thanks for addressing a difficult topic. I can’t begin to imagine how sad the LORD must be when He watches us mistreat others. It causes me great distress.

  6. I am thankful that when God created us He chose to give us free will. He didn’t want to create puppets or robots, but beloved children & companions. What a blessing!

    And rather than questioning that our free will allows us to be capable of great evil, or even the victims of great evil, I choose to praise His Holy Name — in spite of the shooting, & even in the midst of the shooting. I choose to see it as an opportunity to share the Lord with others who are now full of questions. Full of longing for something & just not knowing what that longing is for.

    All of us are longing for something more & that something is JESUS!!!

    • Sis,

      I so appreciate your perspective on suffering: you always look for God and good instead of evil and the devil. Yes, it is an opportunity to share the one people need so desperately.

      Thanks for being an example to me of love. An incredible example.

  7. When tragedy hits it seems that most folks (whether they are “religious” or not), have one of two reactions: Run towards God, or run away from God. Pain and suffering creates many problems if we believe God is the source of all human activity. If God created us with free will – and by this I mean the ability to freely choose to run away from God and God’s good purposes in this life, as well as freely choosing to be in a relationship with God – then it only figures that some tragedy is rooted not in God at all, but in the activity of humanity.

    More disturbing for many folks are the places in the Sacred Text that speak of God “disciplining” those whom God loves. Discipline often is seen in resulting in causing some level of pain and/or suffering. That is a tricky argument and one that takes careful spiritual discernment.

    When others suffer Christians are called to be the loving presence of Jesus bringing aid and comfort. Not only do we – as Christians – run to God in times of great distress, we run to those who are suffering, that they may know how compassionate and loving God is as expressed in our actions.

    • Brother Pete, I love what you have written – especially the last paragraph. Powerful.

      Yes, I agree. May we run to God in our suffering and run to others in their’s and be the loving presence of Jesus – beautiful. Thank you!

  8. Somehow, we live between the reality of God’s sovereignty and our free will. We see the consequences of sin working in the heart of man, yet we know that God is in control and His heart is for all to come to repentance and a right relationship with him. In the midst of suffering, I think we see a loving God the best when we remember that He chose suffering for us on the cross. We can then cope with the suffering around us with the power He gives us. We can not do it in our own strength but we can through His.

    • Brother Mark, thanks for your insights.

      Yes, I so agree that we have a God who is sovereign and in control, who allows us to make choices (even evil ones), who is completely loving and even understands our suffering. In fact, I think God suffered in heaven when He saw what men did to Jesus. I know God is all powerful and transcendent but. . .I think He can also suffer. I believe He is imminent. Near. So incredibly close to us. He just wants us to draw near to Him and lovingly obey and worship Him with all our hearts.

  9. The “problem of evil” is one of the most difficult and most asked about conundrums for all people. The lead-off questions in this blog mentioned: Where was God? How could he let bad things happen? Is he in control or is it just that he is not all powerful?

    I would submit that God is there in the midst of tragedy (human facilitated or so called
    “natural disasters”). As a Christian, I believe that God is always there (as he was at
    Christ’s crucifixion) and he experiences pain just as we do.

    Consider the statements: 1. God is good; 2. God loves humankind; 3. God is all powerful; 4. Evil happens. I submit that each of these 4 statements is true. I also find there to be NO contradiction in these statements. That is, our loving God is good, all powerful AND evil happens. Might he have a purpose here?

    As previously discussed in this blog, God has given us the freedom to choose the right and good, or to choose to do the wrong.

    Taking all this into account, it seems probable to me that God’s greater purposes are fulfilled in the events about which we query: “How could a good God allow this to happen?” Is not the seemingly imperfect world in which we live really the best possible environment for causing/motivating people to realize their dependence upon God? After all, a world in which all events and circumstances were to our individual liking would not motivate us to seek to know and be in relationship with God.

    • Earl,

      I so agree that God has a purpose in suffering and tragedy.

      Evil cannot be allowed unless there is an ultimate purpose for it that we cannot understand in this world. We see through foggy lenses (1 Corinthians 13:12).

      Your final paragraph seems so wise to me. If all were well on planet earth, who would be motivated to seek God, know God, be dependent upon God?

  10. I have to say it tears me up when I hear about children getting abused or tortured. Abuse and torure are evil against anyone, and especially against someone who cannot defend themselves at all – whether the evil comes from satan or from human beings it doesn’t really matter. I know that God hates evil. I know God allows evil to persist for awhile in our world, and uses the evil for His own purposes. I know these things, but it doesn’t make it easier. I get so angry when I hear about these things. And it’s reassuring to know that God gets angry too. I’m glad that God has set a day when He will judge. He’s patient, waiting for us fallen humans to turn to him; but He promises us also that there will be justice. I tremble at that, and I’m glad at the same time.

    • Julie, thanks for your candid expression of your feelings (anger & sadness) regarding suffering.

      I share your feelings and your theology. And as you said, may we tremble at the thought of the Day of Judgment and rejoice in it at the same time.

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