Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Mr. Huckabee

Dear Mr. Huckabee,

As a fellow pastor, here are my problems with your analysis of the question posed to you by Nick Cavuto:

How could God let this happen?

1. Your response was to a question Mr. Cavuto did not ask.  You answered the question “why is there so much violence in our schools”.  While this may be an interesting and important conversation, it was not the question Mr. Cavuto asked.  And here’s the thing: in the immediate aftermath, his was the question that needed and needs answering.  But you wandered off course, doing real harm because those who were listening for an answer to that question were left with nothing.

2. You’re a pastor.  And you were speaking as a representative (evangelist/ambassador) for Christ yesterday, not as (or not merely as) a television commentator.  You were asked the question because of your presumed expertise on the mind and heart of God.  By failing to meet the hard questions head on, the Christ you (and I) represent on earth appears to be a dodger of the tough stuff as well.

3. Crises are not times for answers, especially pat ones.  Even if you’re right (and I do not believe you are), no one can (nor should) hear logic and analysis in such times.  What they, what we, seek; nay, what we require, is comfort.

4. “I don’t know” is an acceptable and honest answer.  Allowing the demands of prime time to push you into a sound-bite response is dishonorable to the body.

Why you’re wrong in what you said.  Here’s the quote:

We ask why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that,” said Huckabee.  He added, “Maybe we ought to let (God) in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end. Fox News Insider
1. You’re factually wrong in the claimed link between the alleged removal of God from school and this attack.  The shooter was not a school child as in Columbine.  Nor was he an employee or former employee of the school.  He invaded the school as a very unwelcome intruder into its routine and tranquility and presumptive safe haven status.

2. Maybe you have some insider knowledge as a professional journalist, but the information reported yesterday when you were making your remarks included nothing about the young man who did this in terms of his own faith (or lack thereof).  He may have been raised in church.  He may have attended a church school.  At the time of your remarks, that simply was not known.  You made assumptions about him.  They may prove in time to be correct; they may not.

3. Theologically, I am troubled with the premise that the claimed absence of God from any sphere of life creates trouble because we forget the eternal consequences of our actions.  Is this really what we have on offer to the world – a seat in hell if we’re bad?  Isn’t the message of grace in the here and now the gift of changed-ness?  Of being more than we were before?  Of being transformed by God’s grace into someone and something we never before thought possible?  And isn’t the worldly challenge one we have to grapple with – the very real truth that Christians are too often indistinguishable from others in their/our behaviors?  That we too do heinous evil?  That we too fall short?  That our fruit is often rotten?

4. You cannot be the man you are and claim the erasure of faith and faith discussions from the public square, for you are Exhibit A for the case that this simply is not true.  You are a very public figure, paid to offer up just such opinions on the public airwaves.  You are arguing against a straw man.

5. I would say this to all sides: when a tragedy occurs and your first response links the tragedy to your own views of what’s wrong with the world, it probably says more about you than it does the world.  You regret the decision to eliminate verbal prayer from schools; thus this event must be linked to that absence.  Others decry the absence of gun control; thus this event must be linked to that absence (and given that the instrumentality was in fact a gun, they have the better argument – although Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine makes a good case that something else is at work in the national psyche of the US by contrasting our gun behavior to that of Canadians, who have similar access to such weaponry, but nothing near our levels of gun deaths).  For my own part, I do not know what the causes were.  I’m not sure that the young man who apparently did this deed even knew himself; that level of awareness generally requires more clarity of thought and judgment than his acts would indicate he possessed – but I am speculating.  The fact is I really do not know.  None of us do.  And we may never know why.

Finally, to Mr. Cavuto’s question, which deserves honest reflection and response.

How could God let this happen?

I do not know the mind and heart of God sufficiently to claim special insight into divine motivations.  So the best answer I have is I don’t know.

But this is not a question demanding of an answer grounded in reason and logic.  This is the cry of the human heart that will not be comforted.  This is Rachel weeping for her children who are no more.

And the answer I have – indeed, it is the only answer I have – to that question, that keening cry, is God’s comfort and the sure and certain knowledge that God weeps with us and that the temple curtain was rent yet again in God’s own cosmic mourning, for these were God’s children before they were ours.

But if the why question demands more attention, this is all I’ve got.  William Slone Coffin once said (I paraphrase), “when you ask God why he let something happen, have you ever considered that God is asking you the same question?”

The first time I read that, I felt as if I were gut-punched.  The truth of it slammed me against the place there is no running from: God does send help – all the time – God sends us.  And we fail.  We fail each other.  We fail ourselves.  We fail God.

My own anger yesterday was directed not at God but at us – the collective us – humanity.

In terms of God’s own responsibility, when some time has passed, those seeking the answer might read Elie Wiesel’s writings on the rabbinic trial of God in the concentration camp.  Finding God guilty of crimes against humanity, the rabbis adjourned and went for their evening prayers.  These were real people experiencing real suffering of epic proportions.  This seeming paradox was the only answer they had.

The fact is that all people of faith will wrestle with the question of how evil and tragedy can occur in a world created by a God claimed to be loving and protective of the divine creation.  And the fact is that there is no answer grounded in logic and reason that will suffice.  How could it?  What possible answer could there be in human understanding that would satisfy a grieving parent?  For my own part, as a person of faith, every answer I can imagine always leaves me responding, “But you’re God!  You can do better than that!”

And in my own heart, God responds, “But you’re humanity.  So can you.”

We’ve failed each other, it seems.

Where we go from there, who can say?


  1. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of me, who giveth to all men liberally.

  2. In your answer to the theodicy question, "Why did God let this (evil) happen", you reply well with the paraphrase of Mr. Coffin's "turn-around" of the question: Why did we let this happen?

    And I believe that, in his own way, that's what Mr. Huckabee was alluding to. If we had let God in at the front door, we might not be questioning Him at the exit.

    Certainly, if we truly believe that God, the God of the Bible, not only has the answer to the human dilemma, but is indeed that answer, then the actions of our culture over the last five decades that ban God from the public discourse place the responsibility for evil acts squarely on our shoulders.

    Who knows the personal history of this shooter/killer or his family? Who knows what his background really is, or what he's had to face? But I do believe that he and others like him would have, and would have had, a far better opportunity at living successfully, or at least in check, had we not abandoned God and His values.

    1. Brian, Thank you for your thoughtful words. We're all groping in the dark, I think, seeking to make sense of the senseless. I grant Mr. Huckabee the best of intentions; but I struggle with what sounds of the pat answer. Atomic bombs of tragedy befell a world where prayer was openly practiced in the public sphere. I do agree that God in our lives together as well as individually is a hugely important part of being a citizen. That, perhaps, is the best place of all from which to begin and begin again. In God's own peace, Beth

    2. Well Said, Brian

    3. Brian, I also agree that Mr. Huckabee was answering the question by the "turn-around" why did we let this happen. Good reply.