I was browsing through the Chronicle of Higher Ed today, which included a big section on the Virginia Tech tragedy. Two weeks after the event, it seems that most things have returned to normal outside of the campus itself (and the families themselves who were afflicted). The week after the shooting, I was pretty upset. Most of the media coverage focused on safety--how can we keep our campuses (and our businesses and towns and homes...) safe?
It is interesting that safety doesn't seem to be God's chief concern. Most of us Christians probably have some stories where God did intervene and protect miraculously, but for the most part tragedy doesn't seem to be a respecter of creed or sincerity of belief. Christians die from cancer and are victims of drunk drivers and all the rest. It is not a safe world. This fact causes some theological conundrums.
Jesus taught us to pray, "Deliver us from evil." And he himself prayed--unsuccessfully on most interpretations--that the cup of suffering would pass from him. Granting that God does do this sometimes, still leaves us with the other times. Why doesn't he deliver us from what are obvious evils like psychologically disturbed gunmen?
One response is typically called the free will defense to evil. God places such a high value on the free will of these creatures of his that he's not going to step in and stop the consequences from such actions even when they result in evil. But the problem with this solution is that it is too strong of a response. On this principle, it seems that he never should step in if he values free will so much. This seems to rule out the possibility of any miraculous protection against the evils perpetrated by free agents--a possibility we'd like to leave open. We're still left with the question, "Why does God intervene sometimes and not others?"
While I will uphold free will till I'm blue in the face, it doesn't seem to me that this can be the whole story. And I don't pretend that this settles the problem once and for all, but it seems to me that the answer must lie in the direction of the following: God desires above all our holiness, not our safety or even our happiness. Holiness is an attribute that transcends our existence in this unsafe place, in this kingdom of the world. It is very difficult for us to take the perspective of eternity for ourselves and for those we love, but from God's perspective and from within his kingdom, events like the tragic death of loved ones must look a little different. I don't mean to suggest that they are not difficult or even still tragic. But they must be something else in addition to this. They must be opportunities God has decided to allow because they have some redeeming value for shaping us into the kind of people he wants us to be.
I don't mean to suggest that God is to blame for somehow causing tragedies to happen. Rather, I believe and trust (what else can we do?) that God can use tragic situations for something else, that he can work all things together for good. This is little consolation if our perspective on life is for this world only--quantity and quality of embodied life is all there is. But what if there is more?