A God Worth Worshiping: Reflections on Newtown


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By: Brad Masters //

I realize this is a much more serious article than maybe our audience expects. But I feel that the events of today demand some respectful reflection.

I fell asleep on the couch last night as I’m wont to do, still wearing my (now-wrinkled) slacks, dress shirt, and tie from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.  Within minutes of waking, I had learned the devastating news that 20 innocent children had been executed in a Kindergarten class in Newtown, Connecticut. Pure, unadulterated, inexplicable evil.  I spent most of the morning gaping, reeling, and praying. My private pain turned to a quiet query, which I believe I share with many across the Nation: Where is God? And why didn’t he prevent this?

I believe God exists and is acutely aware of our struggles.  But days like today are really tough to swallow.  The recurrent “problem of evil” can feel so heavy that the all-too-common response that “God allows evil to test and try us” paints a picture of a dishonorable deity.  Paul promised us God would never tempt anyone beyond their ability to withstand, so unless these pitiable parents in Newtown are spiritual supermen or superwomen, how can this be okay?

As I sat, reflecting, I took comfort in what my Mormon faith has taught me about God’s nature.  We believe that every person on this earth is a spiritual son or daughter of God.  God is quite literally our Father in Heaven and earnestly yearns for our well-being, just as any parent, indeed more than any other parent.  He has given us life so we can grow, recognizing that any child learning to walk will sometimes stumble, any heart learning to love will sometimes grieve.  His joys are ours, and so, too, are His pains.

Nowhere is this more clear than in one of our books of scripture known as the Pearl of Great Price.  Enoch, a prophet, is given a vision of Satan laughing at the evil he provokes, rejoicing in the darkness he causes through sin and hatred.  Amidst this, Enoch beholds God: “And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept.”  Curious, Enoch asked how someone as holy and eternal as God has the capacity to weep.  God’s response is perfect and transformative:

“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;  And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood . . . wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

As Terryl and Fiona Givens, two LDS writers, wrote in their new book The God Who Weeps: “God’s pain is as infinite as His love. He weeps because he feels compassion . . . He will share in all our sorrows. But He also shares in all our triumphs and joys. For He has set His heart upon us.”  Often, the vengeful, destructive Jehovah of the Old Testament pushes out of our minds our weeping, vulnerable Heavenly Father.  But it is this attribute of God to which my thoughts are most directed on days like this, when I think to myself: “This is a tough day for God.”

If we’re here to grow, then maybe God can’t prevent every tragedy from happening.  A child prevented from learning to walk for fear of a stumble would never run.  A heart kept from love for fear of grief would forever remain empty.  God allows us to make our own decisions because that is how we progress.  But as we witnessed today, that freedom has high costs. Understanding God’s extreme capacity for empathy, I almost feel that he, too, would benefit from our prayers.

So where is God, today? Weeping alongside twenty sets of devastated parents in Newtown, Connecticut.  And that makes Him a God worth worshiping.

17 Comments

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  1. 1
    Michael Ysasaga

    I always gain great solace with the words of Nephi when he says: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
    I believe this to be true. I know God loves us. And I know he feels our pains, no doubtedly deeper than our own emotions take us. And as sadly as the truth that there must be opposition in all things, something this terrible does bring a love towards a town and people I’ve never known.
    I appreciate what you all at Normans are sharing. God Bless.

  2. 2
    Eric Williams

    Other verses in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the New Testament teach this principle. Christ’s first moment of true vulnerability during his mortal existence is not expressed in scripture until he calls out in the Garden “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42). The mortal savior withstood Lucifer’s temptations. He stood innocent and quite at His trial that would lead to His crucifixion. He uttered a plea to forgive His enemies as He hung in agony moments before His death. But when burdened with the sorrows of this world, He prayed for strength.”Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” D&C 19:18. The sorrowing Savior’s burden was so great that an angel from Heaven was sent to comfort Him. This is Jehova, creator of Earth and life upon it. Author of the plagues of Egypt. Yet even this mighty God was brought low as he suffered for the sins of mankind. I believe in an empathizing God who suffers when we suffer. Who finds strength when we unite. Who grows as we grow. I find it instructive that this same Savior chose to cloak three Nephites in immense power yet preserved their ability to sorrow for the sins of the world. “And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world” 3 Nephi 28:9. God chooses to preserve our ability to sorrow, for empathy is perhaps one of Heaven’s most powerful atributes.

  3. 3
    Chase

    Well written Brad. I’m loving the site.

    Tragedies like yesterday make it easy for many to curse God; as though He was the author of such tragedy. Isn’t He all-powerful? Couldn’t He have intervened? As I’ve tried to sort this seemingly contradictory declarations of the divine, I’ve come to better appreciate the God I worship.

    Is he all-powerful? Yes. Unquestionably. Undeniably. Remarkably. His ultimate power was evidenced by him NOT intervening. What restraint. What foresight. To watch your child murder the most innocent of the human family and yet stand by the plan they came to Earth to experience requires unimaginable power. Could he have stopped the madness? Yes. Did he? No. Why? That isn’t the plan.

    My God has the power to do all things. He chooses to let His children make their own choices. The ultimate goal is to learn from our mistakes, to love more freely, to worship more faithfully, and to understand God more completely.

  4. 5
    leslie

    Thanks, Brad. Wonderful perspective, and I think we are all seeking that in some way. I know that Heavenly Father is with those families in their grief. I hope, also, that they can feel the prayers of so many on their behalf.

  5. 6
    Steve

    B-rad, great article. I was watching a national news station last night and the host had two prominent pastors on as guests discussing “Why would God let this happen?” To my surprise, but yet totally not surprising, there was no mention of agency or the protection thereof. Both gave pretty general, round-about answers in the tone of “It’s hard to tell exactly why, but we should all find God”. Everything else they said was fairly vague and open ended.

    Reading you comment also made me think that He also weeps for his other son, the one that took the life of those children, as well as his own. I think he weeps for all his children, no matter what. And I would imagine that judgement will be a time of joy for Him because of his righteous saints, but also a time of great sorrow, for his many other children that will not enter His kingdom.

  6. 7
    Camila

    I would also add that God’s hand is in these events, even when we do not see it. For example, with Columbine, the devastation should have been so much more horrific. Those boys had planted multiple bombs around the school (which did not go off), and enough rounds to kill over 100 people. I believe that God is actually there, protecting from far worse things that can happen at the hands of these terrible people. As more details of this event happen, I’m sure we’ll become aware of more details that confirm God was there. Now, we can just pray for the families who were left victims to these horrible events.

  7. 8
    cate

    This is one of the most well written articles I think I’ve ever read. I’ve shared it with countless people this weekend, reading the entire article out loud to them. Thanks Brad for some seriously interesting and thought provoking words. I truly love the idea of God benefitting from our prayers. Thanks to all of you for creating this amazing blog. Love it and all of you!

  8. 9
    Sharon

    Oh my goodness! I was crying while reading this! Thank you SO SO SO much for sharing! Definitely what the world needs to hear right now. I think I’m going to keep reading your blog (this article was the first I read on here and I’m glad I did!) Thank you for proving the “normalcy” of Mormons 🙂

  9. 10
    Greg masters

    Thanks Brad, for those thoughtful insights. I wish the rest of the world understood these things. Imagine how painful it must be for Heavenly Father to watch so many wander and take his name in vain while he is doing everything he can to lead them to an understanding that they can only get by discovering it themselves. The solace that He has though is knowing that while this life may seem real and painful, it will be but a dream and no longer hurt us once we realize the millions of years we have already been living once the veil is lifted. I look forward to that day and until then, may we all take a little more time to look at those around us and try our best to comfort their hearts.

  10. 13
    There is hope smiling brightly before us « NORMONS

    […] So this week has not been the most “bright” or “smily” of weeks. Between the bombings in Boston and the tragic explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, it’s been a time that has caused some to question the limits of humanity, and also the God who watches over us–or in this case, seems to have momentarily turned his back. […]

  11. 15
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