“I was agnostic going into that concert and I’m a firm believer in God now,” Taylor Benge told CNN after surviving the Las Vegas shooting. He explained: “Because there’s no way that all of that happened and that I made it and I was blessed enough to still be here alive talking to you today.”
One man responded on social media by quoting atheist Sam Harris: “Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.”
There’s another option.
God created us with free will so we could choose to love him and each other (Matthew 22:37, 39). But freedom without consequences is not free. If I choose not to go to work but God miraculously transports me to my office, I have no real choice in the matter.
Of course, we would like God to prevent horrific misuses of freedom such as the Las Vegas shooting. But logically, he could not honor our freedom while preventing its results, no matter how tragic they are.
Here’s the problem: sometimes in the Bible, that’s just what he did.
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were condemned by King Nebuchadnezzar to the fiery furnace, God protected them from the fire (Daniel 3:27). When Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, God sent an angel to shut the predators’ mouths (Daniel 6:22). When Herod imprisoned Peter, the Lord sent an angel to free him (Acts 12:6–11).
If God could protect these men from the consequences of misused freedom, why did he not protect those who were killed or injured in Las Vegas? Why did he not protect the victims of the Holocaust or 9/11?
It seems to me that we have three options.
One: God is capricious.
Grieving the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis noted, “The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'” Perhaps God loves some people more than others. Perhaps some of us are more important to his purposes than others.
But “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Therefore, his character requires him to love us all unconditionally. He loved those who died in Las Vegas no less than those who survived.
Two: God has reasons he won’t explain to us.
Perhaps our Creator is unwilling to explain himself to his creation. But he invites us to “reason together” with him (Isaiah 1:18)—the Hebrew means to “argue it out.” He wants us to love him “with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Three: God has reasons we cannot understand.
When God allows or prevents the consequences of misused human freedom, he must have reasons that are consistent with his loving heart. But if he is God and we are not, it is only logical that his thoughts would be higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). A math teacher cannot teach calculus to a toddler. Even God cannot explain what we cannot comprehend.
Here’s the good news: in heaven “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). So will you.
I do not know why God allowed the tragedy in Las Vegas. But I do know that he redeems all he allows and that he is love. The less we understand our Father’s ways, the more we need to trust his heart.