When church isn’t safe

Meredith Flynn —  August 8, 2012

COMMENTARY | Daniel Waters

Editor’s note: Just two weeks after a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, the country was rocked by a similar crime when a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin Sunday, killing six people and wounding four others. In this column, Daniel Waters shares his experience in another place of worship – a Baptist church in Texas – that was devastated by violence, and how God has answered a really big question in his life: How could a good God let this happen?

The recent, terrible shootings have left many asking, “Where was God?” and “How can a good God allow such a terrible thing to happen?” I know that, regardless of the correct theological answer, for people who go through an ordeal like that, the pain will not soon dissipate.

I asked the same questions when as a young man I went through a similar tragedy. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I attended a city-wide worship service at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, to celebrate See You At The Pole. This was September 15, 1999. That evening, while we worshiping and reflecting on that morning’s success, a gunman entered the sanctuary and started firing. Seven people were killed and more were injured. I was devastated.

When I returned home that night I asked God those questions, and He led me to open my Bible to Psalm 27. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid?” God was telling me that He holds my life and the only safe place is in His hands. If I had given the lordship of my life to God, I had to trust Him even when everything around me was failing.

This word from God comforted me. But the question, “Why would a good God allow this terrible thing to happen to me?” still had to be answered, and I had to grapple with His sovereignty in order to ever move on from that night. My journey to answer that question showed me a lot about God’s character, my relationship with Him, and the state of our fallen world.

Here’s what I determined: When I asked God, “How could You, a loving God, allow this to happen?” He showed me the problem has to do with the nature of love. If love can’t be chosen, it doesn’t exist. Under the umbrella of His sovereignty, God has allowed men relative freedom to be stewards of his creation and to choose to follow Him.

But if you can choose love, you can also chose hate, which is really only love of the wrong object – usually one’s self and one’s desires.

God showed me we suffer because we all choose to love things other than God. Because God loves the world, this suffering is only temporary; His sovereignty is displayed in his authority to judge everyone by His standard, to punish the wicked and make all things right. In Revelations 21:4, God tells us that, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

When we face such heartache, it seems impossible to move forward. But thank God there is hope and healing when you place your faith in a God who makes the impossible, possible, and can answer even the hardest questions in our darkest hours.

Daniel Waters is associate pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.