by Ken Westby
This past Sabbath (3/12/05) an unusual terrorist attack took place at a church service in the Milwaukee area. Eight people were shot to death including the suicide/homicide shooter. This ghastly act of evil was especially distressing as I know many people in that church organization, although I didn’t know any from the local Milwaukee congregation.
I can picture the scene of a quiet church service with families assembled for fellowship and to hear a Bible message. Suddenly it become a killing ground for a crazed man with a gun. On television I saw the faces of survivors broken in grief and distress and confused beyond comprehension. The shooter was one of their own. Why? People cry out, “why did God let this happen?”
We may never know what demons were driving the killer to do his evil deed. But I know this: God had nothing to do with it. Our good God does not do evil nor is he even temped by evil. He is as distressed as we are over the slaughter in Milwaukee—and probably more so. God is free and he has made man free. From the beginning man is free to obey or disobey, to do good or to do evil. God does not force us to either be good or be evil, but he calls all mankind to follow his way of love—to take on his divine image. From Eden God has made plain the difference between his way of righteousness and the way of sin. He gave his Son that man would forsake evil, be forgiven, and receive eternal life.
In addition to the freedom God gives those made in his image, there is the reality of Evil. Evil exists. It is inspired by its creator, Satan, the Serpent. We cannot understand what happens in this world unless we understand the presence of evil. Satan is also free to do his work, but we are free resist his pull to sin. James said “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Js 1:14). Satan appeals to our selfish desires, corrupts them, and pushes us in the direction of sin. Nevertheless, we remain free to chose his way or reject it. The Milwaukee killer was free to love or to kill. He chose to do a great evil and I have no doubt that behind his decision was somewhere the influence of the Evil One himself. Both parties will face the judgment of God.
In my daily prayers, I ask that God keep me from temptation and “deliver (me) us from the evil one” (Mt 6:12). I also ask that God “put a hedge around” my family to protect them from evil (Job 1:10). I’m sure your prayers are similar. When human freedom and the power of evil meet there is always the possibility of tragedies like what happened last Sabbath. The history of the world is full of evil acts as is the daily newspaper and TV news.
But now that the powers of the Kingdom of God have entered this age, the days of evil, sin and death are numbered. Soon the Son of God will come, the dead in Christ rise to eternal life, and the Evil One will be imprisoned. God has taken a great risk in giving man freedom and letting him chose between good and evil, but the wisdom of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. Eventually the goodness of God will lead all mankind to repentance (Rm 2:4) and the victory of God over evil will be complete. Mankind will have used its God-given gift of freedom to chose the Way of God. Man will have willingly chosen to become like God in mind and character and willingly reject the way of evil and sin. The Victory of God will be beautiful and total. It will be accomplished with freewill.
The only way to prevent evils like happened in Milwaukee and the millions of other evil acts that take place every day, would be for God to have created man unfree, unable to chose, unable to control his own actions. Of course, if God had created man in such a way, man would not be free and not be accountable for his actions. He would not have been fashioned after the image of a free Creator. He would be no different than animals governed by hard-wired instincts, mere two-legged robots.
We can thank God for the privilege of free choice and pray for the coming day when all men will exercise it for good, not evil. Our prayers are for the comfort of those who survived the Milwaukee shootings and for the families of those who died.