In the Paris News story about the Assembly of God church shooting in Sash, Texas, Debbie Wolfe is quoted, remembering the scene when Sash A/G pastor James Armstrong was killed by the gunman:
“Brother Armstrong’s wife crouched down beside their travel trailer, and I know the man walked back and forth several times shooting. The Lord protected her.”
Can I tell you I am bothered when folks say this?
Does Mrs. Wolfe really mean to imply that God was not protecting Rev. Armstrong? That God was not protecting the other three who were murdered this Sunday?
Not really, I really don’t think that’s what she means.
But the words say it, and people who aren’t native speakers of “church talk” hear a different message than she’s intending to send. (For my part, I think she and others like her simply mean, “The outcome should’ve been different, but God must have had a different purpose in mind. We’re grateful it wasn’t even worse.”)
We heard a lot of this kind of talk after 9/11, and it distracted me then, too, because I suspect this language must cause pain for the survivors — and it must make it even harder for non-believers to want to serve or worship a God who seems so callous and arbitrary.
Christ told us not to fear the one who can destroy the body, but rather to fear the one who can destroy the soul (Luke 12:4-5). The real protection we need is from God and his holiness. As long as we are sinners, unable to attain holy perfection by our own strength of will, then we are targets of God’s ultimate judgment. As one of CS Lewis’ characters remarked about Aslan the Lion:
“No, he is not safe… but he is good.”
The moment we are conceived we enter into a world that is under the sway and influence of sin and is the rulership of Hell. There is never a moment when one of us is not in danger of physical death—we live precariously a moment’s breadth away from death.
That we are alive at all is a miracle, not a given.
And yet, for the true believer, death is not something to be feared. If you believe God has prepared a place for you in his Father’s house, then you know that death is only a transition into something much better, something that the joys of this life were only a mere, grimy, prelude to.
So, who is the recipient of greater grace and mercy? The widow Armstrong, left behind to muddle through this vale of tears, sorrow, and grief, alone without her husband? Or her husband, who is even now a part of the great cloud of witnesses cheering her on?
To live is Christ, to die is gain.
Someday, maybe, I’ll understand. Meanwhile, I’ll probably join Mrs. Wolfe in using language that is simply inadequate to the task.
[tags]BlogRodent, sash-texas, church-shooting, assembly-of-god, violence, death, god, pain, suffering, heaven, hell, mercy, grace, james-armstrong, survivors-guilt[/tags]