Sandy Hook Massacre: 5 Years Ago
On Friday, December 14, 2012, in Newtown,Connecticut, a man used a gun, bullets, and the energy of his life to take the lives of twenty Sandy Hook Elementary school children, six school staff, his own mother, and finally himself. No one knows what to say in moments like this.
But in these moments we mumble, utter, and declare so many things about God. Do we really mean these things? Or are we making excuses for God? It was disheartening to hear how many people, President Obama included, said that God called those children to heaven. Actually, in his difficult effort to comfort, the President quoted Jesus, and went on from there:
“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home.1
At first hearing, maybe we don’t recognize any trouble because this is such a common theology. But, God called them all home? Really? Does it feel loving and comforting to say something like that? Do we actually think this is a loving God “calling” his children back to him? What can that possibly mean? Are we saying it is God’s loving plan to have people murdered as the means by which they are called back to God? Sounds extremely disturbing to me. I am not leveling a charge specifically against the President. He is merely expressing an altogether ordinary confusion about God.
Hovering above all statements of this kind is the haunting specter of a God in absolute control of everything, so that everything that happens is God’s mysterious and loving plan. If we mean that, then the shooter acts out God’s plan. That’s just terrifying. And if we really do mean that, then God’s love is expressed in murderous bullets. If so, then God is the perpetrator of all vile acts. If so, the word love becomes meaningless.
But the twisted ideas of God’s love don’t stop there in this example. It is just as troubling to hear how many people have said that God abandoned those children because we have banished God from our public schools. For example, in response to the Newtown shooting, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”2 Huckabee’s definition of God requires him to believe we should not be surprised by Newtown. His definition of God abandons those children to murderous bullets because people don’t pray in public schools anymore. How puny and petty is the God who would actively withhold
love, care, concern, and protection for human beings—children in particular— because there is no public worship of God in public schools?
How can that be God? It can’t be.
It turns out it might not really be a problem with “God” we need to address. Rather, it is our definition of God that needs serious attention. What’s giving God a bad name is really a false God who goes by many names, with many terrifying definitions. So, let’s set out on our journey to end the reign
of that false… God once and for all, so the God of love can shine bright. The first step will be to pick the brain of a cultural commentator and satirist named Stephen Colbert. He will give us the first tool we need so to rediscover the truth that God is powerful love. That tool is the term truthiness.
1. “President Obama’s Speech at Prayer Vigil for Newtown Shooting Victims (Full Transcript)." Washington Post, Politics, December 16, 2012. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-speech-at-prayer-vigil-for-newtown-shooting-victimsfull-transcript/2012/12/16/f764bf8a-47dd-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html?utm_term=.55ca88733c14.
2. Blumenfeld, Warren J. “Tragic Shootings Blamed on Denying Prayer in Schools and Public Square.” Huffington Post, December 20, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/warren-j-blumenfeld/tragic-shootings-blamed-on-denying-prayer-in-schoolsand-public-square_b_2319700.html.