I need to push back today against some of the traditional thoughts that I've grown up with about God and "providence" or "sovereignty", and what those words mean when we use them in regards to describing God.
Yesterday, a woman was shot and killed in an apartment complex in North Highlands. A man that was with her was also shot, and he's in the hospital. The shooter, apparently, walked up to them, fired several shots, and got into a waiting car that pulled up, then split from the scene at high speed.
One moment, the woman was walking along talking to other people. The next moment, she was shot. She crumpled to the ground, and after several more probably excruciatingly painful moments, died.
Sheriff's deputies rushed to the scene, did their very best to contain the crime scene and render aid, but before the fire department and paramedics could arrive, the woman had already breathed her last. Her injuries were too great.
One moment alive - the next gunned down.
Flip a switch. On - off.
I've worked for the Sacramento Sheriff's Department for almost 23 years now. I've answered 911 calls for literally thousands of emergencies, and dispatched Sheriff's deputies to the scene of thousands of crimes. Literally hundreds of people have died in crimes that occurred while I was working. I've talked on the phone to people who were with a dead or dying loved one, or over the radio to deputies as they and paramedics struggled ever so valiantly to save a life that was literally draining away as they worked.
This particular incident is almost no different from many other shootings I've worked on, to be honest. People die in violent crimes all the time. More than you probably realize, if you don't work in law enforcement or maybe a hospital.
Most of the time, I shrug it off.
"Meh. Another one bites the dust." Its amazing how jaded one can get in this business.
Truly, this particular incident - the way it occurred, the outcome for the victims, the actions of the suspect - is almost identical to hundreds of other incidents. Shooter (walks up, runs up, drives by) the victim, shoots the victim, victim falls, shooter (runs, bikes, drives) away (often with the help of an accomplice), and the the victim (dies, goes to the hospital).
The names of the people involved and location of the crimes change, but the rest is disturbingly all too common.
But this incident, for some reason, got to me.
After the initial chaos of the incident had subsided, I reviewed the information in our dispatch log. I noticed an update stating the victim had died. I also noticed the time the update was entered.
I could almost put an exact time on the woman's death. As I was working, doing my job, and others were doing their's, and hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of other people on earth were doing their thing - working, eating, sleeping, laughing, crying, playing, reading, walking, fighting, loving - at a particular moment in all of that, this woman died.
Flip a switch. Off, this time.
I remember saying a prayer for the woman's family, and the man who was shot and survived. I prayed for the workers on the scene. I prayed for the shooter - yes, even for him or her. I can't remember exactly what I prayed, I just remember closing my eyes and asking God to ...... do whatever He does in these situations.
Help. Or not. Whatever. Just be there.
And here's my pushback, and my problem.
As I left work, I began running this incident through my theological brain and immediately the gears began to seize up. I began to hear the things we say when these kinds of things happen.
"Everything happens for a reason."
"Nothing happens without God allowing it to happen."
"There must be a greater good in this someplace."
"God has His reasons for calling her home. It was just her time."
"God is in control. We just have to trust him."These are the things we say to comfort ourselves and each other in times like these. These thoughts went through my head as a matter of instinct and habit. That's when the gears seized up and I said to myself, "No. that's not right."
Did God intend for this woman to die?
Did God have complete control of this situation, causing it to happen the way He wanted?
Was this tragic death all a part of God's mysterious plan?
Did God ordain that this tragedy happen so that He could bring about some greater good?
Was this moment - the exact time of this woman's death - known and predestined by God from the foundations of time?
I have to say no.
I cannot, will not now or ever again, accept the concept that God ordained, planned, caused or otherwise had a hand in bringing about, this tragedy or any other tragedy like it. I will not now, or ever, love a God that has ordained, planned, caused, or otherwise had any hand in causing or bringing about horrors in this world, such as this shooting.
I do not believe God ordained this shooting. He did not look forward from the depths of history and make meticulous plans that caused the events of yesterday to unfold the way they did. He did not plan from the foundations of time the exact moment this woman would be shot and the exact moment her heart would stop, for some some mysterious purpose of bringing about a greater good or glory for Himself.
Someone being shot and killed is a good, loving way to bring about a greater good or glory to God? Seriously?
There is no way that I can believe God caused this evil occurrence, this shooting and death, for any purpose that would benefit Himself or anyone else, ever. No way.
(Don't quote Genesis 50:20 to me, either. That verse is taken out of context far to often.)
Here's where the rails came off the tracks, and the gears seized up for me.
If God indeed planned this incident from the beginning of time, as the 'blueprint' or Calvinist view of God describes (which, even though a lot of churches don't explicitly teach this view anymore, it's still very prevalent in our thinking), then God would have to be the one who planned and ordained all the bad choices, evil desires, selfishness and greed that occurred to cause an incident like this shooting, in which a woman died. He'd have to plan it, and made it happen, right?
If that's true, people were just doing what they were 'predestined' to do.
There is, then, no free will, and no way to oppose God's will, if people are just doing what we're predestined to do.
God gets everything He wants, exactly the way He wants it.
Which would mean God wanted this woman shot. For a reason that He knows. A good reason, because God's plan is always good, right?
I heard someone say once, "God has no plan B. Everything is His plan A, from the beginning."
Therefore, God must be to blame. For everything.
To be sure, God gets the credit for every good thing in life, but if we think this way, God also has to be given the credit for every bad thing that happens. So we pray "Lord help me, save me!", but what are we asking God to save us from?
"Lord, please save me from..... you?"
So God saves us, but God also causes the evil that we need to be saved from? God is good, but also causes all the bad? By inference, God is the cause of sin, but also the judge for that very sin?
Really? Does that actually make any sense?
You can love a God like that?
And the whole time, I believe Satan chuckles to himself, basking in his own brilliance.
With his lies and deceptions, Satan has managed to introduce a toxic view of what 'God's love" means, and without us even realizing it, has turned many people against God, and convinced even more people to actually blame God for the very chaos Satan has caused!
Where we should distrust and be wary of Satan, the Great Deceiver, we are instead forced to be wary and distrust God himself, while at the same time trying to figure out how to love a God we don't trust!
Absolutely brilliant strategy! Too bad we fell for it.
No, I believe God is a better, greater, grander, more loving God than that. I believe in a God that is not challenged by the free-will and the chaos caused by His created beings. I believe in a God that is so wise, so brilliant, so omnipotent and sovereign over His creation that He doesn't need complete control to bring about His good.
Love, after all, never controls. Love beckons, never coerces. Love calls and offers, never forces itself.
The God I believe in has no need to plan everything from the beginning in order to get what He wants. Only a weak, uncertain God would have to plan everything from A to Z in order to get His way. No, the God I love is so very wise, so infinitely smart and brilliant, so omnipotently able that He can both honor the true, real free-will granted to us, and work out His plans to reconcile all creation to Himself, without having to meticulously control anyone.
So, where was God in the shooting yesterday? Right there, in the middle of it, as He always is.
The Deceiver, the Roaring Lion seeking who he may devour, was in the middle of it, too. He was creating chaos in the hearts of the shooter and his accomplices, whispering to them that a gun can somehow solve their problem. He was creating chaos and whispering fear into the hearts of witnesses too afraid to come forward. He was sewing seeds of hatred and discontent in the hearts of the survivors and neighbors, urging them to take revenge in their own hands, to try to further the cycle of violence.
But God was there, too. He was in the hearts of witnesses who called 911, trying desperately to call aid to the scene. He was in the hearts of witnesses who came forward, whispering to them that compassion and justice should rule their hearts. He was in the response of the deputies and firemen and paramedics who risked their own lives to rush into a dangerous scene to render aid and attempt to bring justice to a chaotic incident. He was in my heart as I prayed (and I'm sure others out there prayed, too), just wishing the entire incident had never happened, and that God would pick up the pieces and put people back together.
Bad things happen. People do bad things. People choose to oppose goodness and accelerate evil all the time, and when they do, almost 100% of the time, they think they are choosing 'good' for themselves. It's the great lie, the great deceit that Satan has foisted upon mankind and, for the most part, we've swallowed the lie.
No, the God I love is LOVE, in all caps, bold print, italic and underlined! He is the author and perfecter of faith, and the author of hope. He is the one who, by his own sovereign choice, decided to humble Himself, and go from the highest heights of honor in the highest reaches of heaven, to the deepest depths of human suffering and misery, all the way to the plummeting depths of death. He put on display by His resurrection the outrageous, infinite, indescribable hope He offers, and the love He has for all mankind, and indeed all of creation.......
......even for the woman who died at that particular moment yesterday, while the rest of us went about our lives. I have to believe God was there in that moment. Perhaps He sadly acknowledging the events of her death and yet joyfully welcomed her into eternity with Him. Perhaps He sadly and with infinite sorrow allowed her soul to slip away into eternity without Him, grieving that she never sought Him or found Him.
I don't know what actually happened. That's between the two of them. I trust God to judge rightly and lovingly, and to always do the right thing. But I know God was there. I have to believe that He was there, loving people, drawing people, working through people, even in the chaos......
......and I love that. Even in the midst of all that chaos, God is working to maximize good, and minimize evil, even when we do all we can to act against him.
No blueprints. Just love. At least I can make some sense of that.
(See an older, related post What I Believe (Today) for a further exploration of how I think it all works)