God at Newtown

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Like many Americans, I have struggled to comprehend the event at Sandy Hook Elementary School and have despaired that the “national conversation” (whatever that means) has so quickly devolved into the same old unhelpful clichés and political posturing. While the rest of us are shouting at one another, 26 families have buried loved ones and face a future bereft.

Many people, myself included, have asked where is God in this situation, and again we seem at risk of drowning in clichés that question how God could “allow” this to happen, or (my personal least-favorite) that it’s all part of “God’s plan.” Sorry: I reject the idea that any plan of God’s would include gunning down innocent children and adults. I would want no part of a God like that.

If we think of God as “all controlling,” then events such as what transpired in Newtown are literally inexplicable, beyond understanding, and beyond redemption. No wonder some might have their faith shaken, or reject God outright as a response. I do not consider God to be some kind of celestial puppet master, but I can understand why some people might. For one thing, this idea allows us to absolve ourselves from any responsibility toward one another and the world around us. If it’s God’s plan that a man is homeless, or a woman is raped, or a child is murdered, or a war destroys a country, or a factory pollutes a river, how am I at all responsible? If God is controlling everything, why should I bother to think about or respond to evil or social injustice?

In His wisdom of granting us free will, however, I believe God gave up control in favor of something ultimately more powerful. And we can see this power—we can see God—in the loving response to evil. In Newtown, we saw it in the teachers who protected their children. On 9/11, we saw it in the firemen, police, and EMTs who rushed to the World Trade Center. During the Holocaust, we saw it in the actions of Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, and others who saved Jews. God did not cause or control these events; He wept over them. But He was present in these events through the loving action of others.  When we recognize God’s love for us, and act on the responsibility for one another and the world that His love asks of us, we become part of the ultimate power that always has and always will triumph over evil.

These expressions of God’s love and power through human action are not limited to horrific crimes or major catastrophes. Each of us has daily opportunities to be a medium for God, in actions as small and simple as a kind word, a sympathetic ear, or the touch of a hand. The work of IVC volunteers is but one example. In their own small way, IVC volunteers are tapping into and channeling God’s love for us and for the world.  They are tapping into the ultimate power of the universe.

In the unrelenting barrage of evils large and small, I take comfort in that.

Richard Wells serves on the board of directors of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.  He was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, and runs a consulting firm, The Wellynn Group, that focuses on marketing and communications.  He and his wife live in Bala Cynwyd, PA, along with three children and three dogs.  You may contact Richard at richard@thewellynngroup.com.

7 Responses to “God at Newtown”

  1. Pat Durkin

    Thank you, Richard, for this clear minded, beautiful and inspired response to a question that is on so many people’s minds. I think I will be sharing your response many times.

    Reply
  2. Michele Pagan

    This is very helpful, Richard. So many of us are asking “Why?”, and you have responded really well here, to enbable us to see that we really are God’s hands. Nothing happens in His name, without our making it happen. and sometimes NOT even when invoking His name.
    Thank you for this – I am at a point in my spirituality where I am questioning many things, even exactly Who and What God is, in our universe. I know He exists, but His form is continuing to evolve for me.
    Thanks for helping me take one more step along the path of clarity and closeness to Him.

    Reply
  3. Bill Barry, S.J.

    What a wonderful response to this tragedy. Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to write so movingly and, I believe, truthfully about God.

    Reply
  4. JIM OWENS

    RICHARD; YOU HAVE DONE AN EXCELLENT SERVICE YOURSELF BY SHARING THIS BLOG WITH IVC. I PRAY THAT YOU WILL FIND ADDITIONAL OUTLETS FOR IT SUCH AS YOUR DIOCESAN PUBLICATION AND OTHER COMMUNICATIONS VEHICLES WITHIN AND OUTSIDE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. THANKS FOR YOUR EFFORTS.

    Reply
  5. Fran

    Thank you, Richard, for your beautiful reflection and Michele for your reply. Your words remind me of Teresa of Avila’s writing:
    “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on Earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which his compassion can still look out on a troubled world. Yours are the only feet with which he can go about doing good. Yours are the only hands with which he can bring his blessing to his people. Christ has no body now on Earth but yours.”
    Sounds like a description of an IVCer to me.

    Reply
  6. Mary Lou Miller

    Richard, you said it so clearly. We are empowered by a loving God to be a healing presence. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Louise Sandberg

    Thank you. We were recently struck by Hurricane Sandy, and those who reached out in love to one another were often not conscious of doing God’s will and being God’s presence. We sometimes think “God’s will” is what happens to us, when in the Lord’s prayer we say, “Thy will be done” implying that it is something we can do, so me way we can respond as to God’s guidance.
    A local non-catholic church gave me money for n impoverished family. The pastor asked if the woman was affected by the hurricane. I told her that she lost electricity for 2 weeks, had to replace all her frozen and refrigerated food, couldn’t work because she had to take care of her children because they had no electricity in school, and none of this was compensated. When living on the edge, it doesn’t take much.
    The pastorissued a check from her church. When I called about it, she took from her hurricane fund. I saw that the response of her congregation to those who had hurricane related financial difficulties not covered by other difficulties. They were doing their best to respond to God’s invitation that “God’s will be done” by them.

    Reply

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