Speaker 1: "Why didn't God stop the shooting?" Speaker 2: "How could he? He's not allowed in school anymore."

Why Didn’t God Stop the Shooting?

It’s been about two weeks now since Dylann Roof, dur­ing an evening ser­vice at Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, shot ten parish­ioners, killing nine of them, includ­ing state sen­a­tor and senior pas­tor Clemen­ta C. Pinckney.

So much has been said about this inci­dent. Alle­ga­tions of (and plen­ty of evi­dence for) racist moti­va­tions have been dis­cussed at length. The pub­lic dis­course even went so far as to bring the good ol’ south­ern her­itage of being proud of a time when the black man was sub­ju­gat­ed beneath the white man, with the so-called Con­fed­er­ate flag being all over the news, its con­tem­po­rary appro­pri­ate­ness being exam­ined from every pos­si­ble perspective.

I’ve said enough about the sociopolitical/racial aspect of the inci­dent over on Face­book, so I won’t dwell on that aspect of the sit­u­a­tion. I also want­ed to allow a bit of time to pass so that the more urgent dis­cus­sions could be had before adding my voice on a slight­ly more obtuse aspect of the inci­dent to the zeitgeist.

There have been 108 school shoot­ing inci­dents of some kind or anoth­er just since Jan­u­ary 2010 and just in the Unit­ed States. Let that sink in for a moment. In five and a half years, there have been over 100 life-threat­en­ing inci­dents with­in schools — a place we expect to be safe for our chil­dren! That’s over twen­ty per year, at least one a month on average!

Grant­ed, we don’t usu­al­ly hear about these. For these instances to break into the main­stream news report­ing, it needs to be dead­ly enough to not be con­sid­ered — and I hate to even call it this — “busi­ness as usu­al.” Sandy Hook, Columbine… Those and oth­ers like them are what we hear about, what we heart­break over, and what we promise our­selves “nev­er again” over (until the next time, right?).

With­out fail, you’ll hear some peo­ple of the Chris­t­ian per­sua­sion make the accu­sa­tion that the shoot­ings would­n’t have hap­pened if we would just let God back into our schools. 

It’s a nice thought, I sup­pose: It not only reaf­firms their faith in a pro­tec­tor god but also places the blame nice­ly on the sec­u­lar nature of pub­lic schools, which of course lets those of the faith seem supe­ri­or because, well, theirs is the way of lives saved. This “gotcha” rev­e­la­tion that bad things must be hap­pen­ing because God has been “banned” from schools isn’t just some­thing that gets passed around in the news­pa­per opin­ion comics (see above) or in Face­book posts; every now and again, it’s expressed by notable Chris­t­ian apol­o­gists, such as cre­ation­ist Eric Hov­ind, son of “Dr. Dino” Kent Hov­ind himself:

This sort of sen­ti­ment is actu­al­ly wor­thy of being pub­lished in the reli­gious lit­er­a­ture, too:

Some experts are report­ing that noth­ing could have pre­vent­ed the New­town school shoot­ing. Again, I beg to dif­fer. I think prayer could have pre­vent­ed it. And I think rein­stat­ing prayer in pub­lic schools can pre­vent the next mass mur­der­er from step­ping foot on cam­pus and pre­ma­ture­ly end­ing more inno­cent lives.

Jen­nifer LeClaire, Can We Please Put Prayer Back in Schools Now?

But does it make sense to blame the ban­ning of God/prayer/Jesus/the sac­ri­fice of your finest sheep/whatever from schools for the ter­ri­ble things that happen?

No, for a few reasons.

First, school shoot­ings aren’t a tragedy unique to god­less pub­lic schools. Pri­vate reli­gious schools have them too.

Sec­ond, God, both as a con­cept and (if he is real, which he most prob­a­bly isn’t) as a per­son, is not banned from schools. I refer you to the Bible:

Whith­er shall I go from thy spir­it? or whith­er shall I flee from thy pres­ence? 8If I ascend up into heav­en, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

Psalm 139:7–8, King James Version

The psalmist rhetor­i­cal­ly won­ders to God where he could pos­si­bly flee to be free of God’s pres­ence, and the answer, of course, is “nowhere.” God, as the­olo­gians say, is omnipresent, or present in all places every­where at all times. Because God is said to tran­scend real­i­ty, he is just as present at Alpha Cen­tau­ri today as he is at the bot­tom of the Pacif­ic Ocean in 945 BCE.

Long sto­ry short, the­o­log­i­cal­ly speak­ing, God is in the schools, whether he is “banned” or not.

Also, is God not sov­er­eign? Again, the­o­log­i­cal­ly speak­ing, God gets his way, and he does so in all areas, mean­ing of course that, noth­ing that hap­pens hap­pens apart from God work­ing it for his own purposes:

In whom also we have obtained an inher­i­tance, being pre­des­ti­nat­ed accord­ing to the pur­pose of him who wor­keth all things after the coun­sel of his own will:

Eph­esians 1:11, King James Version

So if every­thing is worked by God accord­ing to his own plans AND if he is every­where at all times, do you real­ly think that God can sim­ply be banned from schools?


Did­n’t think so.

Yes, it is true, in pub­lic schools teach­ers are no longer allowed to teach the Bible or oth­er reli­gious books as fact, nor can they lead stu­dents in reli­gious activ­i­ties such as prayer. If you want those things, there are pri­vate school options! Still, despite those restric­tions, stu­dents can still cer­tain­ly pray (it’s sup­posed to be a pri­vate, indi­vid­ual thing any­way [see Matthew 6:6]), and in their own time, such as study peri­ods, they are more than wel­come to read the Bible.

Back to Charleston…

Now, what does all of this have to do with the trag­ic church shoot­ing in Charleston?

Sim­ply this: Chris­tians can­not blame the “absence” of God from pub­lic schools for school shoot­ings with­out fac­ing the real­i­ty that tragedy is going to hap­pen any­where, even among groups of Chris­tians — groups in which, we could be remind­ed, Jesus is sup­pos­ed­ly present (see Matthew 18:20).

We see through­out the Bible repeat­ed procla­ma­tions that God is a pro­tec­tor, such as in Psalm 91. These procla­ma­tions aren’t “well, if he’s in the mood…” No, to the con­trary, God being a pro­tec­tor is spo­ken of as a certainty.

So where, then, is God? Where is the “Good Shep­herd” when his sheep are attacked, gunned down in “God’s house”?

We can’t blame athe­ism. We can’t blame sec­u­lar­ism for “ban­ning God” from church.

Instead, God’s seem­ing absence despite the assur­ance of his pro­tec­tion argues for secularity.

And to be clear, I’m not say­ing that to belit­tle what hap­pened at that church — it was a heinous, immoral act and should right­ly be condemned.

I want to mere­ly say that the time to trust in invis­i­ble gods for our pro­tec­tion is passed. We need­n’t be sheep under threat of slaugh­ter with no sav­ing shep­herd in sight.

We are humans. We’re alone on this rock we call Earth — no high­er pow­ers, no tran­scen­dent beings watch­ing over us, inter­ven­ing to stop ter­ri­ble things from hap­pen­ing. And we can either choose to con­tin­ue trust­ing our fates to things which don’t exist as our ances­tors pio­neered so long ago, or we can embrace the sec­u­lar­i­ty of real­i­ty and maybe, just maybe, start get­ting along with each oth­er for human­i­ty’s sake.

“Why did­n’t God stop the shooting?”

“Because God is…”

…unin­ter­est­ed? …unwill­ing? …unable? …unaware? …nonex­is­tent?

Cer­tain­ly not “banned.”

2 thoughts on “Why Didn’t God Stop the Shooting?”

  1. Sensible American

    Not only have they banned God (always cap­i­tal­ized), but they’ve banned stu­dents and teach­ers from pro­tect­ing them­selves with their own weapons. Which enables psy­chos to make a name for them­selves by killing easy targets.

    1. You’re assum­ing school shoot­ings, but I wrote about a church shoot­ing, to which I have to ask, were guns banned in the church? Guns weren’t even banned from the Umpqua Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege cam­pus, where a recent shoot­ing occurred.

      Arm­ing every­one does­n’t make peo­ple safer — there’s a rea­son even gun shows require all guns to be either trig­ger-locked or unloaded or both — but cre­ates a hos­tile envi­ron­ment of dis­trust, a pow­derkeg wait­ing to explode at the small­est mis­step, whether an acci­den­tal dis­charge or a fight among peers that escalates.

      Fur­ther, increas­ing the num­ber of guns does not make you safer, sta­tis­ti­cal­ly.

      Also, no, “god” is not always capitalized.

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Rick Beckman