As a person of faith, I find myself turning to Scripture in times of trouble. And when I don’t know where else to go, I find myself traversing the Psalms, seeking to know that 1) I’m not the only one who has felt this way; and, 2) Answers to my questions.
The “whys” and the “how longs” resonate with me the most. I wonder why God is hiding from us and from this world.
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? (Psalm 89:46)
I find myself wondering if God has abandoned us and forsaken us…or, at the very least, forgotten about us.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken [us]? Why are you so far from helping [us], from the words of our groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
People of faith are asking tough questions of God, but God seems to be silent. And the answers I find in the Psalms to “trust” God—whatever that means—seem inadequate right now.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust… (Psalm 25: 1-2a)
It doesn’t feel active enough. Many people are writing their local and state and national representatives, demanding that they take action. And, on the one hand, yes, we need laws that protect the citizens of our country. We need our government to take action. But we as ordinary citizens need to take action too. We need to stand up to our friends, our family, our neighbors, our Facebook acquaintances; and tell them that guns are not the answer to our problems. We need to demand that we hold one another accountable, because laws can only go so far—especially if no one follows them.
One of the struggles we face comes from those persons who are staunchly “2nd Amendment Rights” people. In my own family, I have people who tell me that “we are given the right by the Constitution to have guns! It’s our right!”
I’m not a fan of guns, however, I’m the last person to try and take away the rights of our citizens. That being said, as a historian, let’s talk a bit about what people *think* their rights are, and what they actually are.
First, the “right to bear arms” is not in the Constitution itself, it is in the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. This is itself key. We’ve had amendments to the Constitution that have later been repealed (Prohibition, anyone?). Passed in 1791 to assuage the fears of the Anti-Federalists who didn’t want to ratify the Constitution, the Bill of Rights gives us certain rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution itself.
The 2nd Amendment, the one famous for the line, “the right to bear arms” actually says the following: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Meaning, the “right to bear arms” is directly related to the keeping of a well regulated Militia. The only reason we have to keep weapons, protected by the Bill of Rights, is for those persons who are trained and ready at a moment’s notice to protect our settlements, villages, and towns. And since less than 0.5% of Americans currently serve in our armed forces, that leaves 99% of us without this protection and “right.” (Even if we add in veterans, it’s only 7.3% who have ever served…and most of those were in peacetime who never saw conflict. Check out this article for a great breakdown of service).
Now I know I have probably ticked off a lot of people with these comments, and that’s ok. (If you want to fact-check me, you can start with the Wikipedia articles here and here before branching out further). I think we need to be clear what we are guaranteed by law, and what we aren’t if we are asking to change the law. I wonder if we need to change the law so much as enforce the one(s) we have?
But I digress. I didn’t write this blog post to lecture us on our rights. I wrote it to ask where God is in the midst of the senseless tragedy we find ourselves in daily. In my own great City of Baltimore, the gang violence claims so many lives. As of the writing of this post, we are at 315 homicides for the year—on track for close to 350 homicides before the ball drops at midnight in Times Square. Many of these people are caught up in gang turf wars; but many are innocent too. You can’t tell me that a 3-year-old sitting on her porch is guilty of anything. And I wonder, where is God in the midst of this? Why doesn’t God protect her?
Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a sentiment on Facebook that struck me, and summed up my thoughts better than I could. She said, “This is one of those ties when we might be tempted to ask God why God lets all these terrible violent things happen. But what if God asks us the same question?”
Why do we stand back and idly watch more people get killed by guns than terrorists? Why? And why doesn’t God intervene to stop it?
When God created the world, God created us in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and gave us dominion over the earth. God gave us freewill to use the brains God gave us, and to act accordingly. We have the capacity to discern good from evil, and God lets us do that. God gives us freewill to do as we see fit.
God doesn’t intervene to stop every little thing—what kind of world would we be living in if this happened? We wouldn’t want to live in a world where God stepped in and forced us to do things we didn’t want to do. If every time we prayed, we got what we wanted, this would be a messed up place. That creepy boy you didn’t want to date in high school? Yup…you’d be going out with him because he prayed that God would make it happen. (Yes, this is a silly example, but you get the idea).
Bad things happen because we as people misuse the freewill God has given us. I recently heard a story about a mother and daughter who were walking to church when a car crashed into them, driven by a drunk driver. They were killed. The mother and daughter didn’t do anything wrong, or anything to deserve being killed like that. It wasn’t their fault. A bad thing happened because another person chose to drink too much and then get behind a wheel and drive. That person’s freewill cost 2 other people their lives.
Mass shootings aren’t God’s fault. They are ours. Even if you don’t own a gun; or, if, like me, you’ve never even shot one; it’s our fault. It’s my fault. We live in a violent world where we misuse freewill for our own gain and pleasure without any regard to the people around us. God gave us the brains to discern good from evil, and the freewill to choose between them. And we have been mistaken. Even those of us (like probably all of you reading this) who have never been the perpetrator of a mass shooting, we are responsible. God gave us dominion over this earth and charged us to care for it. And we have failed.
We need to repent and turn back to the Lord. This isn’t God’s fault. This is our fault. And as such, we must take the first steps to fix it. We must stand up to one another and say, “I know you may never use your gun for ill-purposes, but the culture of guns and weapons in this country is out of control. We must stop this. And it starts with us. It starts with me.”
In 1996, Australia had a mass shooting. Afterwards, they enacted stricter gun laws, and haven’t had an issue since then. We as Americans claim that this can’t be done in our country. Maybe this isn’t the right solution. Maybe it is. But we can’t stay where we are. We must change. The answers are indeed in Scripture, in the ordinary people who act in extraordinary ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51, selections)