The senseless tragedy that rocked Newtown, Conn., last week shook us all. An equally horrific but less deadly tragedy in China on Friday left 22 children and one adult injured by a knife wielding man who attacked them at the gate of an elementary school in the village of Chengping in central Henan province.
Like many, I am overwhelmed with grief by the senselessness of these tragedies. Explanations and analyses seem pointless. Words fail. Yet, I’ve struggled through the weekend with every news report, aching for mommas and daddies, grandpas and grandmas, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters whose lives were forever changed last Friday.
Many are speaking into the Newtown tragedy. Many are asking questions. A headline from a Dec. 17, Huff Post Religion column, reads, “Faithful Fill Pews In Newtown Seeking Answers On How God Let Shooting Happen.” Many who are smarter and more theologically astute than me will attempt to answer that question. I think, though, that the better question is “Was God there?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes.”
God was there in the heroic acts of principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach who attempted to tackle the gunman and died in the effort. He was there when Victoria Soto tried to divert the gunman to another location. He was there with those who called 911 and allowed the intercom to broadcast events to teachers as a warning of the chaos. He was with emergency personnel who responded so quickly, possibly preventing the gunman from taking more lives. He was with parents and families as they received news from the school. He was in the closets and behind the bookshelves and under the desks with every frightened child.
Yes, God was there. And He is with the families now — through every funeral and every remembrance. He will be with them on Christmas Day and every Christmas hereafter. He will be with them at their child’s next birthday, at next year’s “first day of school” and at what would have been high school graduations.
If He is with us, why then didn’t He intervene? One of the most troubling aspects of our human nature is mankind’s free will. God allows us to make choices — for evil or for good — and we bear the consequences of those choices. Adam Lanza made a choice for evil and a community and a nation suffer. Hochspring, Sherlach and Soto made a choice to protect their students to the best of their ability. They will be remembered as heroes. It is unlikely that these three women woke up Friday morning thinking, “I will perform an act of bravery today.” More likely, they awakened looking forward to the coming Christmas break, wondering how they would contain the students’ excitement as the last week of school approached, planning last minute Christmas shopping or dinner with a friend.
But when chaos reigned, they made a choice — a choice to fight evil in an effort to shelter the innocent — and they gave their lives in the process. We see in them the image of Christ.
This is the image I want to take away from the Newtown tragedy. This is the image I want to share with my children — of three strong women who fought for “their kids” and of those who came to the rescue, including police, paramedics, firefighters and yes, even the on-site media as they brought the tragedy home to all of us. I want to help my children understand that even in the worst carnage, good people emerge, bearing the image of Christ, sometimes unknowingly, and offering stability, peace and hope.
Yes, God was there, and He is with us now. This is what Christmas is all about.
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).