Cassie Griffin arrived at church on Wednesday night for a prayer rally and a concert. The fourteen-year-old was sitting on the second row with friends when a gunman entered the church and opened fire, killing her and six others and wounding seven before taking his own life.
The shooting occurred on September 15, 1999, at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas. Sunday, the congregation marked the twentieth anniversary of the tragedy. Among those in attendance were Cassie’s parents, who had to identify their daughter that horrible night by the Halloween-themed socks she had been wearing.
Four theological facts
Cassie Griffin and the other victims were in a prayer meeting when they died. This grievous fact raises the question: Why pray? In our post-9/11 world, why pray for protection from terrorists? In this era of mass murders, why ask God to defend us and those we love from the next shooter?
Let’s consider four theological facts.
One: God honors the freedom he gives us.
The most famous verse in Scripture tells us that “whoever believes” in Jesus will “have eternal life” (John 3:16). Joshua challenged his people to “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Thus, we should not pray for the Lord to remove a person’s free will, even if they intend to misuse their freedom for evil.
Two: God sometimes engineers circumstances to help draw people to himself.
The Lord did not remove Saul’s freedom when he traveled to Damascus to persecute Christians. But he did visit him with a blinding light and the voice of Jesus to which Saul responded in faith (Acts 9:3–19). Thus, we can pray for God to draw to himself those planning evil before they commit their crimes.
Three: God sometimes answers prayer by protecting victims of misused freedom.
When King Herod imprisoned Peter with plans to execute him, “earnest prayer for [Peter] was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). The result was an angelic visitation that freed the apostle (vv. 6–10). Thus, we can pray for God to protect those we love from those who would harm them.
Four: Sometimes, God does not prevent the suffering of those we love.
Peter was saved from Herod but executed years later by Nero. Paul was spared in Damascus (Acts 9:23–25) but beheaded in Rome. Thus, we can pray for divine intervention but cannot be certain the Lord will act as we ask.
Modifying Pascal’s Wager
“Deliver us from evil” is part of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:13). If God will not always deliver us, why pray for him to do so?
One answer is that we have nothing to lose. We can modify Pascal’s Wager here: If we pray for protection God does not provide, we lose nothing; if we fail to pray for protection God would have provided, we lose everything.
But, while this may be reasonable, it’s scant motivation to pray with passionate faith. We’re like a farmer who plants seeds he’s not sure will grow no matter how much he waters and fertilizes them. Is praying for the best and then hoping for the best the best we can do?
I’ve often said we should pray and then trust that God will give us what we ask or what is best. As every parent knows, there are times when it is better for us that our Father refuse our request than that he should grant it.
But would I suggest to Cassie Griffin’s parents that their daughter’s murder was God’s best?
Where we find true peace
The fact that I sometimes cannot understand God’s ways leaves me with two options.
One is to view what I believe about God through the prism of what I don’t understand. When evil strikes, I can abandon my conviction that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that “he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
My other option is to judge what I don’t understand about God through the prism of what I believe. I can choose to trust that he is love even when I don’t see his love in action. I can believe that his ways are higher than my ways and his thoughts than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), that he can no more explain the mystery of innocent suffering to my finite, fallen mind than I can explain the doctrine of predestination to a two-year-old.
In war, the worst thing a soldier can do is to refuse a command simply because he does not understand it. You and I are waging a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12) in which obedience to our King is vital.
And in such obedience to his word and grace, we find his peace.
A “sacred moment” for a grieving father
Cassie Griffin’s father told the Wedgwood Baptist Church congregation last Sunday that he became angry and bitter after her death. “I don’t get it, God,” David Griffin recalled thinking. “[Cassie] lived for you, and you let her die in church.”
Then, one day he opened Cassie’s Bible to a verse she had annotated: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” Cassie had drawn a line under without and a box around the word fear.
Griffin told the congregation that this was a “sacred moment” for him: he understood that the verse did not mean believers would live without harm, but that they could live without fear.
What fear do you need to trust to your Father today?