Tragedy at Virginia Tech: Evil, Forgiveness, and Healing

A gunman walks into engineering classrooms at Virginia Tech and opens fire on students and professors. Students jump out of classroom windows to get away from the carnage.  Then, the gunman, a student named Cho Seung-hui, turns the gun on himself.  In the worst school shooting in U.S. history, more than 30 students and professors are dead.

Immense tragedies such as this raise a host of questions. Where is God in all this? How could he allow this to happen? What kind of anguish would cause someone to randomly shoot people, and then commit suicide? What can we do as a society to prevent such tragedies in the future?

Even in the questions, God can meet us in the pain. Mitch Land tells the story of his anguish over his son’s untimely death when hit by a drunk driver. The courage to forgive brought Mitch peace. God meets us in the midst of forgiveness.

God can also give us hope when we see no reason for living. Fear and guilt can cause us to think that our life is worthless. Yet God can give us freedom from fear and guilt, as John Stoll writes. He can give us hope for living.

In addition to the emotional anguish, there are intellectual questions as well. Philosophers and everyday people muse over the implications of suffering and evil: if God is all-knowing (omniscient), all-powerful (omnipotent) and perfectly good (omni-benevolent), why is there evil and suffering in the world? And why so much? In fact, this line of reasoning, known as the problem of evil, has long been engaged to disprove God's existence. However, some believers counter that evil's existence lends credibility to the claim of His existence.

And, there are related questions regarding contemporary society.  Is our society becoming more violent, or is news coverage simply making it look that way? What can we do about the violence?

LeaderU has gathered a number of resources to help answer these questions. We begin with ministering to hurting people, offering specific suggestions for comforting others. Then we discuss forgiveness, and what it means to forgive in immense tragedies of this kind. Finally we move to the problem of evil: How could a perfect, all-powerful God allow evil? We then turn to society and law: what can society do to prevent such tragedies? Finally, we turn to the question of suicide: is there a right to suicide, and how does God meet us in the pain? 

Ministering to Hurting People

In the midst of any tragedy, people often wonder how to help friends and family. What can you say to someone struggling with such an unimaginable event as the shootings at Virginia Tech? Are there Biblical and practical ways to come alongside hurting people? Please note: We will add to these resources as additional articles and links are made available.

What to say about Virginia Tech: 21 Ways to Comfort Those Who are Suffering
Dr. John Piper
After the Columbine shootings, John Piper wrote up 21 ways to love and comfort the hurting by trusting wholly in God's sovereignty over all things. He revised them after 9-11. This article has been reposted in light of the Virgnia Tech shootings (off-site link).

The Process and Power of Forgiveness

A central theme of the Christian faith is forgiveness. How can one forgive incredible acts of hatred and even violence such as perpetrated by murderers and terrorists? Through these articles we offer the encouragement and hope that forgiveness promises.

The Journey of Forgiveness: A Living Narrative of Transformation
Dr. Gayle L. Reed
In this new article, Dr. Reed describes the process of forgiveness and offers hope through examples of people who have gone through the process.

Failure to Render Aid
Mitch Land
When Mitch Land's son was killed by a drunk driver, the pain and anguish were nearly unbearable. Mitch describes his own journey toward forgiveness and how God brought him peace through that journey.

The Problem of Evil: Introduction

Throughout history the problem of evil has remained one of the major challenges to Christian belief. There are intellectual questions about why a perfect, all-powerful God would allow evil. And there are existential questions about how to deal with pain and suffering, and where God is in the midst of difficulty. The classic articles below address these issues from a number of angles.

The Problem of Evil
Rick Rood
In this overview of the problem of evil, Rood examines both the arguments against God's existence based on evil, and also the existential problem of living with suffering. He summarizes the logical problem of evil, the evidential argument from evil, and then examines Scripture on how to deal with suffering.
Available in Español

Why Would a Loving God Allow Pain and Suffering?
Jay Lynch, M.D.
Pain and suffering are not abstract concepts to a cancer doctor who has seen them up close day-to-day. Dr. Jay Lynch explains a biblical view of Job's sufferings and the purpose of pain and suffering. He tells of dreading the treatment of depressed patients, only to come away in awe of their strength and focus. Concludes Dr. Lynch, "There is a perfecting and purifying effect in our suffering..."

The Glory of His Discontent: The Inconsolable Suffering of God
Don Hudson, Mars Hill Forum
"If the Christian life is a sojourn, which I believe it is, then the pilgrim on the way (Homo Viatoris) is moving from the innocence of Eden to the joy of heaven while trying to make sense of a tragic, suffering world.... I do not believe in a God who merely observes our tragedies with a cold reserve. I believe instead, that he is a God who participates in our sufferings while we participate in his suffering of the cross."

When the Good Guys Don't Win
Rusty Wright
"Why is there suffering in the world?" ranked first in a national survey to determine the top 40 questions of life. Could much human suffering be rooted in something deeper than flawed political systems or philosophical constructs? Might there be something wrong with the human heart?

God and the Problem of Evil
At times of crisis or when confronted by evil, people ask "Why?" Dallas Willard offers his analysis of how the Christian faith answers these questions.

The Problem of Evil: Philosophical Resources

Robert C. Koons is professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. In these lecture notes, Koons examines the arguments against God's existence from evil. He concludes that the existence of evil does not preclude the existence of a perfectly good, omnipotent God.

The Problem of Evil: Preliminaries
Robert C. Koons
Part 1 of Koons' lectures on the problem of evil discusses definitions of "good" and "evil," and how these factor into the debate. Is evil a privation of good? How are we to understand the "perfection of God?"

Tough-minded and Tender-hearted Responses to the Problem of Evil
Robert C. Koons
Part 2 of Koons' lectures examines versions of the logical problem of evil, the idea that a perfectly good, powerful God could not co-exist with evil, since He would destroy evil. A standard formulation of the logical argument is considered, as well as an "agapeistic" formulation of the argument.

The Freewill Defense
Robert C. Koons
In Part 3, Koons examines the "Freewill Defense," a defense against the problem of evil which utilizes God's desire to create creatures who can freely love, thereby allowing for the possibility of evil. The lecture looks at definitions of "omnipotence" and "freedom," and how they factor into the argument.

Mackie's Critique of the Free Will Defense, and the Question of Divine Responsibility
Robert C. Koons
Part 4 of Koons' lectures examines critiques of the "Freewill Defense" and how those are answered. Could God have created a world in which he ensures that everyone freely chooses the good?

Violence and Schools

Why do people sometimes go on rampages of violence, and are there root causes for this in our society? These classic articles  examine  the problem of evil,  how God enters our pain,  and the social issues related to violence.

The Littleton Shootings: Looking for the "Why"
Sue Bohlin
Much of the discussion regarding the 1999 Columbine shootings dealt with the how's of what happened. Bohlin goes deeper to discuss the possible why's.

Violence in Society
Kirby Anderson
Christian radio commentator and author discusses issue of violence in society with special emphasis on television violence.

State Education and the Decline in Morality
Paul A. Cleveland
Developing the personal moral character of children is an essential prerequisite for the continuation of civilization. Further, education is an important component of that process since moral behavior requires empathy for others. Regrettably, state schools are wholly unsuited to this task.

The Morality of the West
Ray Cotton
A critique of the ethics being taught in our schools and how it has changed from biblically based values to the morality of political rationalism. The reasoning of moral relativism is destroying our society and corrupting the minds of our youth.

How State and Local Officials Can Combat Violent Juvenile Crime
James Wootton and Robert O. Heck
Policy statement from The Heritage Foundation (1996) recommending institution of various programs to stem youth violence, particularly the Serious Habitual Offenders Comprehensive Action Program (SHOCAP). Contains detailed research on youth crime and analysis of why today's juvenile justice system is failing.

In Memory of Rachel Joy Scott and A WakeUp Call to America's Youth
Rev. Bruce Porter
Rachel Scott was a victim of the 1999 Columbine shootings. Her testimony as a born-again Christian serves as the impetus for this powerful challenge to other youths across the United States.

Related Articles: Suicide

As the suicide rate continues to climb, and more and more people choose to end their lives in confrontations with police, what are the Christian answers to suicide? Is there a right to suicide based on a "right to privacy?" When life is excruciatingly unbearable, is suicide the only way out? Can God give peace, forgiveness and hope so that the pain is bearable?

Suicide Is Not a Private Choice
David Novak
Is there a right to commit suicide? Novak examines the right to privacy as it has been interpreted in the Constitution, as well as philosophical theories that support the autonomy of the individual. He concludes that these foundations for a "right to suicide" are flawed, and that a stable society must view a Higher Authority on such matters.

Two Problems Everyone Faces
John H. Stoll, Ph.D.
Young people often commit suicide because they are devoid of hope. Stoll writes that fear and guilt are two major causes of hopelessness, and he shows how freedom from fear and guilt can be found through Jesus Christ.

Yearning to be Loved
Carrie Wingfield
A very personal account of one woman's bitterness and anger in her struggle against homosexuality, the suicide of her father and her own suicide attempt, and her healing through Jesus Christ.

Would You Like to Know God Personally?
The following four principles will help you discover how to know God personally and experience the abundant life He promises.