In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there are still many questions being asked among startled and grieving Americans. One of the most pertinent, of course, surrounds evil and the reasons a loving God would allow such a horrific massacre to take place -- especially one that took the lives of so many innocent children.
Today, we're looking at some of the insights that faith leaders have had about the very real presence of evil in our world. The difficult subject is frequently tackled by preachers, rabbis and other religious leaders, but questions tend to intensify following tragedy. So, we've assembled five of the most interesting recent responses and commentaries. Here they are:
Pastor Rick Warren: "Free Will Is a Blessing & Curse"
First, there's Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forrest, Calif. In his view, evil is sometimes the unfortunate result of free will -- the ability that God has given human beings to make decisions for themselves. In freedom, Warren argues, pain and poor decision-making may arise, thus leading to occasional evil that can be inflicted upon others.
In speaking on-air with Fox News' Neil Cavuto last week, he said:
"Our greatest blessing is our greatest curse. God could have made us puppets, where none of us did anything wrong, we prayed all of the time, we always did what's right. But God wanted us to choose to love Him, and in giving us this choice, I often make bad choices, and so do other people, in fact everyone does – the Bible calls it sin. Because of that, the world is broken."
Pastor Rick Warren speaks at The Elton John AIDS Foundation and UNAIDS breakfast at the Russell Senate Office Building on July 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images North America
As for mourning and grieving in the wake of tragedy, "The Purpose-Driven Life" author also had some other important insights:
"The deeper the grief, the fewer words are needed. A lot of folks are looking for wisdom, or the right word, and are asking 'what do you say?' – but there is nothing to say. You just need to be there. You need to show up. And when people are grieving, they don't need a lecture, and they don't need an explanation. Explanations don't comfort us."
"What comforts us is the presence of others, the presence of God, and the first thing we have to do is we have to learn how to release our grief and we need to do that right now."
Pastor Doug Posey: "The Slaughter of Innocence"
Pastor Doug Posey of Living Oaks Community Church in Newbury Park, Calif., reflected upon the tragedy, like Warren, by discussing free will and its prime role in yielding good and evil.
"That's the big question...Where was God in all of this?" Posey said, according to the Ventura County Star. "God has given us free will, and when there is free will there has to be a choice between good and evil...One day he will do away with all evil, but until he does, evil will happen."
Mourners embrace following funeral services for Connecticut elementary shooting victim Emilie Parker, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Ogden, Utah. Emilie, 6, whose family has Ogden roots, was one of 20 children and six adult victims killed in a Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Credit: AP
The preacher also mentioned a Bible story that is capturing quite a bit of attention following the Sandy Hook shooting -- King Herod and his "slaughter of innocence."
"When the wise men came looking for Jesus, they wound up going to Bethlehem. When Herod found out, he had all the boys killed who were 2 years old and under," he said. "There is and always will be loss associated with Christmastime. Herod was an evil guy, and he had free will, just like this shooter."
Rabbi Aryeh Spero: 'God Mostly Does Not Interfere'
Rabbi Aryeh Spero, president of Caucus For America and the author of “Push Back: Reclaiming the American Judeo-Christian Spirit”, also contends that God affords human beings free will and the power for personal decision-making.
“So as to allow us continued free will and, more or less, control our own destiny, God mostly does not interfere,” he recently told TheBlaze. “We learn lessons and grow, as individuals and as a society, by living with the results of what we do and don’t do.”
And unfortunately, these “results” and negative choices can be monumentally damaging. Notice, though, that the rabbi said that God “mostly” leaves free will to its own devices. Spero also noted, though, that at times God does intervene but that the reasons for this protection are a “mystery.”
Crosses bearing the names of the Newtown shooting victims are displayed in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. The funerals for the victims of the school shooting are wrapping up after a wrenching week of farewells. Twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. Adam Lanza, the lone gunman, killed his mother before going on the rampage and then committed suicide. Credit: AP
“Occasionally God spares us from impending doom, and sometimes He even performs the extraordinary in our behalf,” he added. Moses wanted to know precisely this: What is God’s yardstick? But it is not mathematics; and man, not being God, does not know all the whys and whats of God.”
Spero believes that pain is a part of life and the human condition and that, regardless of how hard we seek out an answer, obtaining a complete one will never be possible. Some people are certainly uncomfortable with this notion — not knowing why an all-loving God would permit such intense horror.
Pastor Miles McPherson: "Pray Against Evil"
In a reflective article published in the North County Times, Pastor Miles McPherson of the Rock Church in San Diego, Calif., addressed Sandy Hook, by presenting a dialogue he imagines having with God. Here's a portion of that discussion:
Whenever tragedies like this happen, everyone wants to know, “Where was God when all of this took place? If God is so loving and good, how could He have allowed something like this to happen?”
I have a suggestion: Why don’t you ask God?
He might answer:
“I’m so happy you have looked to me in prayer expecting comfort, wisdom and protection. But what I want to know is, why did you wait until after the tragedy to pray to me? If I am the first person you pray to when tragedy strikes, why are there so many controls exerted by your culture to prevent my little ones from learning about me?
“If you truly believe prayer can bring hope, why don’t you focus on teaching my little ones to pray against evil in advance of tragedy?
Pastor Miles McPherson (Photo Credit: MilesMcPherson.com)
The piece goes on to show God lamenting that both he and guns have been banned from schools, while also providing what McPherson assumes the Lord would say to those questioning why he didn't step in to prevent the attack:
"My heart breaks for these little ones and their families more than you can imagine, and in the end, justice will be served. That’s why it is especially offensive to me that some of you would go so far as to blame me for not stopping this evil act. I did not create you as robots, but have given all of you the same freedom to choose to obey me or not. Murderers obviously choose not to obey me, but what about you? The freedom you are exercising to blame me for these killings is the same freedom people abuse when they commit a crime."
Pastor Joel Osteen: "God Is Good & God Is for Us"
Another familiar face in the American evangelical scene is Joel Osteen. The preacher, like Warren, appeared in media following the tragic shooting, speaking out about the need to comfort those in need, while also addressing the presence of evil.
"God gave us all our own free will. He gives us freedom of choice, He didn't make us his robots," Osteen recently told "Today's" Matt Lauer. "Unfortunately, some people choose to do evil, and we don't always understand it, but I still believe that God is good and God is for us, but He doesn't make us do what's right."
Osteen reiterated the importance of faith in the face of evil and tragedy: Watch his comments, below.