Barbara Brown Taylor once wished for pulpit police who would rush into services, handcuff offending preachers, and lead them away before they could do any more harm. We needed such force last Sunday. Sadly, national tragedies always seem to bring out the worst theology.
I would arrest anyone who claimed that the shooting in Connecticut was the result of God taking away “His protective hand.” Preachers add a variety of so-called justifications for this idea, from the “homosexual agenda” to the prohibition of prayer in public schools. But any way you slice it, this is just bad theology for several reasons.
First of all, it effectively blames the victims. Especially when we attempt to critique the culture, we should do so with integrity and grace by standing humbly with people, rather than pointing our finger at “them” or “those people.”
Secondly, our statements about God offer a glimpse of just how we imagine God. What kind of deity would take “His protective hand” away? It is as if God were a kindergartner, whose feelings were hurt by fellow playmates in the sandbox. So, God picks up his toys and goes home. We can do better than that! That image of God is not good enough for me. I need a bigger God, a God who is bigger than a kindergartner . . . especially when kindergartners have been murdered in cold blood.
Thankfully, both Scripture and tradition do offer something better – far better. We have the theology of the incarnation. At Christmas, we celebrate a God who, instead of remaining separate from us, chose to become one of us. God is Emmanuel, literally, “God with us”! Isaiah tells us that a child is born, a son is given. What would it say about the giver if the present was then taken away or taken back? That’s not grace; that’s not the God we worship in the person of Jesus Christ, the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.
To put it another way, in the aftermath of the shooting, many are wrestling with the idea of gun control. Yet I think, theologically speaking, we have a problem of God control; namely, some people want to control God by claiming that their political and ideological agendas match squarely with the Lord’s. Thanks be to God, God is bigger than that. God is beyond our control. And, surely, this is our greatest hope . . . that God’s grace and steadfast love are beyond even our wildest imaginations, greater than even the darkest of days.