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The Rev. Dwight McCormick Rev. Dwight McCormick
Rev. Dwight McCormick is the solo pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church of Springfield Ohio. He has been in parish ministry for 13 years in the Presbyterian Church USA.

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Connecticut Shootings

February 14, 2013

21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;... 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? --Matthew 5:21-22, 38-46

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  --Jonah 4:1-3

I've struggled with this week's entry.  I decided to comment on the shootings in Connecticut last week rather than the typical focus on driving in this blog. I have found no way to connect it with driving, other than the driving force of God's love and the call it places on you and me in our every day lives.

In order to gain understanding of the love of God it is important for us to practice a thinking faith and not only a faith of feelings.  The complexity of Gods love invites us to think theologically.   I'll be talking here about theology, the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God's relation to the world.

Specifically I'll speak about what I see as faulty theology in response to the shootings in Connecticut.  I will describe the ways in which people are speaking of God in the public sphere as impractical and misguided.  I will examine a more helpful way of examining the situation theologically.  

What follows is lengthy, and not comprehensive, but it offers a framework for how we may conceive the love of God and its practical application to the shootings last week.

This past week 28 people lost their lives in Newtown Connecticut.  20 children were shot and killed, in addition to 6 school personnel, the shooter's mother, and the shooter himself.  Many reports list 26 deaths.  This reflects a gap in how we relate to people who are children of God even if we hate what they have done.  The challenge of applying the theology of a merciful God to this situation comes in imagining God forgives even Adam Lanza.

If we read the book of Jonah we realize that it speaks directly about God's mercy. We typically think of Jonah and the big fish (traditionally whale) and the lesson being one of obedience.  Often we interpret the book's message as "You better not try to run from God's call because God will capture you and make you do God's bidding even against your will." The lesson of Jonah is bigger.  

In the verses sited above Jonah reflects his hatred of the Ninevites.  He didn't WANT them to be forgiven, because he thinks they deserve condemnation.  Adam Lanza would be the Ninevites in the story, and we would be Jonah.  

God's word to Jonah and to you and me is that we don't get to make the call on who God forgives. It isn't in God's nature to withhold forgiveness.  

God's nature is to love even the most difficult to forgive.  We don't have to like it, but that is the nature of God. For some reason we make God's nature one of a vengeful being who allows innocents to die because of a perceived lack of our faithfulness.  An example is Mike Huckabee who has said that we have cast God out of our schools and then when tragedy strikes we don't need to be surprised or something close to that.  

This is the height of arrogance, ignorance, and a distorted image of who God is. If we believe God is no longer in schools because of legislation that restricts prayer in schools we have to carry out the logic of that argument.  I list the following conclusions we reach if we believe in the premise that God is absent in schools.   The list is made of up COMPLETE FALLACIES AND ABHORRENT THEOLOGY.  I do NOT believe the following list.

Here are the conclusions we draw if we believe God is absent in schools due to a lack of legislated prayer:

1) God is not omnipresent.

2) The United States (or any secular government) has the ability to make an Eternal being leave a location.

3) God is only present where we are obedient and when we are praying.

4) God likes to punish nations and individuals when laws don't support the Christian Faith.

5) The innocent children and teachers of Newtown were God forsaken and without the help of God's mercy at their time of need and eventual death.

What a petty and small God this would be.  I'll list counterpoints to each of these delusional thoughts.

First if a being is Eternal-ETERNAL how can we or anyone limit that being?  God exists from the beginning of time, will exist beyond all time and exists at all times and all places simultaneously. This means God who is eternal is omnipresent, or present EVERYWHERE.  How then would we presume to limit such a being? Next if we imagine that our government has power over an eternal being, the Creator of the universe we demonstrate overconfidence in the power of the U.S government.   Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Presidency all of have difficulty passing laws on which they agree (of which there are few).  
How would we imagine that our government's decision to not endorse prayer in schools has any affect on God? Furthermore, if God is only present when humans are obedient then ALL of us would be without the presence of God because we're all CONSTANTLY disobedient.  

That's why we need Grace to save us.  None of us is without sin and all of us rely on salvation by Grace through faith.  If God's Grace depended on school prayer or our fidelity in relationship with God, then who among us would be saved?  

This also implies that people stopped praying in school because it is against the law. It is correlational data that violence increased after prayer was removed from schools.  Here's the correlational data fallacy.  Crime is higher in the summer.  Ice cream sales are higher in the summer.  Therefore ice cream causes people to commit more crimes.  Prayer is no longer in schools.  Ever since prayer was not legislated in schools violence in schools has increased. Therefore a lack of prayer in schools causes greater levels of violence.  It doesn't hold water.

The changes in our culture over the time when people recited prayers in school are vast.  Many variables exist that may have increased the level of violence we see in the world. Another point I dispute is whether God wants to punish us.  God is not in the business of punishing.  Why would God send Jesus Christ into our midst if God was only going to forsake people when God didn't get God's way? Think about this image of God.  "I'm taking my Grace and going home!" while stomping a foot.  
Really?  That is not the nature of the God I worship.  Jesus told in the Matthew passage how it is we are called to respond to violence.  Jesus taught us to embody peace even in the face of violence.  Why then would God use violence to punish humanity? Finally if we believe God abandoned the children and teachers in Newtown and if we believe God was not present with them at their greatest time of need, then we have to believe in a callous God that breaks God's promise to be with us always even to the end of the age.

The driving force behind my Christian faith is one of balancing the intellectual world with the world of faith in Jesus Christ.  A Christian faith that has been examined and continues to evolve over time is a vibrant faith.  It is faith that requires us to reject the notion of God's absence, God's vengeance, and the image of a God who forsakes people in their time of greatest need. I am willing to admit my arguments here have flaws. However I am not open to discussing whether the nature of God is forgiving or not.  So please Mr. Huckabee and those who would align beliefs with him spend some time reflecting on what your statements mean if you carry them to their logical conclusion.  
I invite you to pray for wisdom to do so and while you reflect on what you are saying.  I will pray for further understanding and wisdom as well. I have to do so because in my judgment of you I am guilty of judging my views as the only right ones. That is what I am criticizing others for doing.  So God deliver me from this practice.   I pray for a day when dialogue rather than finger pointing can rule the day.  

In the mean time I pray for God's mercy to help us stumble past our differences.  I pray we can set aside arguments in order to learn and train people in the ways of the Prince of Peace.  Help us all Jesus to become who you are calling us to be. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.  Amen.


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