The Sandy Hook Children Belong With Their Parents, Not in Heaven

December 20, 2012 4:25 pm 4 comments

Flowers for those who died in the Sandy Hook shootings. Photo: Wikipedia.

I know he was trying to be comforting, but President Obama’s comments at Sandy Hook about God perpetuates the myth that we humans ought to always see God in the role of comforter. God is supposed to be our protector and Biblically we’re supposed to challenge God in the face of suffering rather than believe that innocent people dying is somehow His will.

After reading the first names of all the twenty children who were murdered, here is what President Obama said:

God has called them all home… May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place.  May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort.  And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America.

Called them home? What? Their home is with their parents in Connecticut, not at the divine throne in heaven.

‘His holy comfort’? Who wants that? We want these kids alive and well, not some substitute comfort.

May God ‘bless and watch over this community.” Wait a second. Was he watching when Adam Lanza shot each of these children multiple times? And if He was, which I as a religious man firmly believe, then why didn’t He stop it?

Obviously, this isn’t about President Obama. It’s about a prevalent and fraudulent belief in world religion, captured in the President’s otherwise moving speech, that when tragedy strikes our first impulse should be to defend God rather than rail and thunder against the injustice of it all. God’s first role is not supposed to be as our consoler-in-chief. Rather, He’s supposed to be our foremost guardian. If He could split the Red Sea than He can stop an ‪.223-calibre Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle’s bullets. If He could bring down the walls of Jericho than He could have made the walls of the Sandy Hook school impregnable to monsters. And if he could revive the dead with Elisha than He could preserve the life of these small children.

Why God is silent and seemingly absent in the face of so much suffering is the real question about the Sandy Hook massacre. These kids were innocent. Does God not promise to protect the innocent? The Lord will protect you from
 all evil; 
He will keep your soul.” (Psalm 121) These kids were vulnerable. Does God not promise to guard the defenseless? “The Lord is the keeper of little ones: I was humbled, and he delivered me.” (Psalm 116:6) These kids deserved long lives. Does God not promise to safeguard humanity? ”I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” (Psalms 61:4)

Judaism gave rise to the defiant man of faith, the man who like Jacob spars with angels and defeats them. The Jew is a child of Abraham who went so far as to accuse God of injustice when the Almighty sought to the destruction of both the righteous and the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah at once. He is the disciple of Moses who thundered to God that he wished his name to be taken out of God’s holy Torah if the Creator would proceed with His stated intention of wiping out the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf. Like King David who declares in Psalms, “I shall not die for I shall live,” the Jew has achieved immortality through an impudent insubordination in the face of historical inevitability, daring to defy fate and forge an audacious destiny.

Our role in life should not be to offer empty platitudes in the face of suffering about how murdered children are in heaven. Rather, we have a right to demand from God that He abide by the same values and rules that He commanded us to uphold. Through Moses He commanded us to always choose life. “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Duet. 30:19) Must God not also choose life? Are we human beings just so much cosmic chaff that when our children are slaughtered we are meant just to bow our heads in silent submission?

No. The role of religion is not to make us compliant. Rather, faith galvanizes us to make the world a better place. That means fighting evil and protecting life. It means building hospitals and developing medicines. And it also means demanding of God that He show Himself in history and help us to make the world a safer place.

We can’t stop every monster-psycho like Adam Lanza. But He can. And spare me the arguments that say if God were to stop evil we would not have any freedom of choice. When Adam Lanza grabbed his mother’s guns and started over to the Sandy Hook school, he could easily have been hit by a bus and noone would have been the wiser. It would not have compromised anyone’s freedom of choice.

Challenging God in the face of suffering is not blasphemous. Rather, it is deeply religious and the ultimate sign of faith. It means we believe that God controls the world, controls human fate, controls the world’s destiny, and has it in His unlimited power to make the world a happier place.

President Obama is an eloquent speaker. But rather than let God off the hook, in the face of tragedy I would rather hear him say, “Lord, we Americans are a righteous people. We spend endless blood and treasure around the world to untie the hands of the oppressed, to protect the rights of women, and to safeguard children from terrorists. We give huge amounts of charity and Synagogues, Churches, and Mosques dot the fruited plane. We have Your holy name printed even on our money, and we have a national day of Thanksgiving to thank You for Your bounty. We deserve better than to see twenty tiny precious souls slaughtered so brutally. In the name of all that is righteous and as the Chief Magistrate of this great nation, I ask You, I implore You, I demand of You, to protect our children, Your children, from harm, so that all the peoples of the world will see Your great hand in history and how the innocent are allowed to flourish, prosper, and grow old with children of their own.”

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, and will shortly publish The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

4 Comments

  • I think this is the first time I have laughed since the CT tragedy last Friday. So, thanks for that! Rabbi, this is sort of a “rage against the dying of the light” thing, huh?

    I am hoping that your perspective, together with the submissive Christian perspective President Obama expressed, are not our only alternatives when it comes to spiritual framing of our earthly catastrophes. Though of the two responses, the Christian one does seem more rational.

    I mean no disrespect when I point out that it indeed sounds a bit delusional to insist to the invisible wind that “God” be God. Or else what?

    Now I understand all my little Jewish friends in school, why they were never embarrassed or humiliated. They believed it was their birthright to challenge authority! And more power to them! How I envied their seeming immunity to punishment.

    Those of us raised to feel guilty over every imagined wrong were indeed weakened and confused, while our Jewish counterparts must have been empowered by adversity. This explains Netanyahu’s new determination to develop more settlements in Gaza despite the recent Palestinian recognition by the UN!

    I believe it is time for us to grow up, Rabbi. It is clearly useless to demand one more breath or heartbeat from the Creator of all that is. The wisdom of surrender, though it may appear “weak” in your eyes, is obvious. In the case of Sandy Hook, there is no choice, whether one believes in a Divine Creator or not.

    The Serenity Prayer, spoken by countless members of AA – God grant me the Serenity
    To accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference – is the only SANE philosophy for believers and non-believers alike. Demanding an invisible, imaginary Heavenly Father to be “better” is laughable at best and outright insane at worst. Adam Lanza no doubt felt rage and confusion, though he dealt with both in a methodical way that “felt” appropriate and justifiable to him. Perhaps he too was angry at God, and secretly defied God to stop him if He could!

    There are other alternatives which posit that human life, triumph and misery, are mere stepping stones in learning to see a much bigger picture WE CANNOT POSSIBLY EVEN INTUIT. A ray of the sun may or may not comprehend its source or destiny, or even know much about its fellow sunrays, nor does it matter, as any atheist or humanist will attest to. The ray really has no choice but to do its appointed job.

    The impulses that drive us forward might not always be healthy or loving, as in the case of Mr. Lanza and others, including some bankers, doctors, and world leaders who do not have the good of the whole in mind. They are like cancers, amassing cells at the expense of the very organism that sustains them. I’m sure you know such people.

    I and others believe it is a time in history when, if we are to survive as a species, we need to put aside our personal beliefs and desires (including our limited concepts of the Divine) and ask more important questions: What will enable humanity to move into a new era of cooperation wherein all people are able to live in dignity and peace? How can we live in some degree of physical comfort without usurping natural resources needed by future humans? How can we wean ourselves off of this wasteful, destructive path and sustain our culture at the same time? Telling ourselves that God “should” do things for us is well, childish and unconstructive. We truly need a more inspiring vision than that.

    Stand on a hilltop and demand that God answer these questions, be my guest. But Rabbi, I don’t think God opened the Red Sea or engraved words in stone. God doesn’t need words. God doesn’t need our worship or respect either. And YOU are not specially chosen because you are Jewish. I’m sorry if you really believe God vanquished some enemies of the Jews way back, but that is not logical or true. It is only what was written by your own people so you would feel special and cohesive and strong.

    Back to present time, for all of our sakes, I’m certain it is time for us to WAKE UP and CHANGE COURSE. If that means forsaking ancient religions, so be it. Rant at God all you want, then get back to the matter at hand. We have made a big mess and now we need to clean it up, starve the cancer, flush the colon, kill the greed and corruption before it is absolutely too late for even God to redeem, if “He” is even interested.

    Respectfully,

  • There’s very little righteous about Americans as a whole currently. You can look at the entertainment of her people, the murder of millions of unborn babies and the breaking down of the family-just three of many examples-which reveal the heart of our country as one who no longer recognizes the Sovereignty of G-d in our lives; He is just a name on a dollar bill.
    HaShem is acknowledged now only in times of mourning, but otherwise His Name is constantly being diminished in the public sphere by secularism.
    There’s a reason why HaShem allows things – He allowed parents to consume their children during the siege of Jerusalem – we just don’t always know why. He does still intervene – but not always in a way we recognize or every time we want Him to.
    The actions of man isn’t evidence of a G-d who sits on the sidelines, but of degenerate man who has rejected His Teachings and of very real evil; this world needs repairing for a reason; not to mention a Reigning Mashiach. If He repeatedly intervened every time man committed evil then there would be no need for Tikkun Olam prior to that Coming.

    Shalom

  • Or rather than challenging God for his inaction, you could consider it just one more amongst millions of data points consistent with God’s non-existence.

    If we want to protect our children, we’d best do it ourselves, because at times of crisis, God is consistently nowhere to be found.

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