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Is it only the fault of the Tsarnaev brothers, or does the wider society share in the blame? Will science be able to prevent such tragedies? And what about God? If God is in charge of reality, then couldn’t he have prevented such a terrible tragedy?

Whose fault is the Boston Marathon bombing?

Is it only the fault of the Tsarnaev brothers, or does the wider society share in the blame? Will science be able to prevent such tragedies? And what about God? If God is in charge of reality, then couldn’t he have prevented such a terrible tragedy? Just a tweak here or there, or someone discovering the bombs before they detonated? Should we be angry at God for what happened? Here are some thoughts from what several thousand years of Western civilization have taught us. 

Is it the fault of the perpetrators?
Long ago, the ancient pagans described a conflict model of the world where different gods battled each other and human beings had to take sides. Taking their cues from passages in the New Testament, many religious conservatives have a similar stance. We are at war. God and Satan are at each other’s cosmic throats. We have been given free will, and it’s up to us to choose the good and reject the evil. Therefore, conservative theologians tend to have a strong sense of individual sin and responsibility.

Is it the fault of society?
Traditional Christianity, starting with Plato and later the writings of Augustine, had a different view from today’s conservatives. Augustine believed everything God created was good. There could be no war because God was sovereign, and would never allow for opposition in his creation. Instead, evil is the absence of good, something like a rip in an otherwise beautiful and perfect piece of fabric. Human beings have this fatal flaw, and everyone partakes in one way or another. Following this view, the perpetrators are at fault, but as flawed human beings we also share in the blame.

Will progress in science and technology fix the problem?
The rise of science in the late middle ages brought new ideas and a different kind of hope. Perhaps evil could be put in a test tube and studied. Science might advance to the point that the causes of suffering could be understood, and if not eliminated, at least minimized. Many who follow this scenario see society and even religion as a problem, not the solution. Unfortunately even renowned modern atheists such as Joseph Conrad attest that there is no hope in human progress. The increasing problems of bombings and mass shootings seem to validate their troubling views. As Plato and Augustine believed, it seems more likely that we have a fatal flaw somehow woven into the fabric of humanity that science and technology will never cure.

Couldn’t God have stopped the bombs?
To some way back in the ancient Roman Empire, the ideas of transcendent gods seemed cold and heartless. Instead, religions called mystery cults told stories of how the gods came down and took part in their sufferings, even to the point of giving their lives for them. Christianity is often seen as the most successful of the mystery cults. Jesus didn’t stop the cross. Instead, he died for our sins, taking our infirmities and sharing our sorrows. Today, many people still take comfort in the thought that when we hurt, Jesus hurts with us.

Should we be angry at God?
The book of Job goes back before science, before Christianity, and before Western civilization, perhaps back to the foundations of humanity. It is not a true story in a literal sense, but it can be true in the more important sense of human experience. Job explored the common thought of his day, that suffering was a punishment for some specific sin. Job believed he was innocent and that he had justification to be angry with God. He discovered instead that God and evil were far beyond his grasp.

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. Job 42:3.

So whose fault is the Boston bombing?
The message of Job says that we need to be careful about who we blame. There are no quick and easy answers. Good and evil are both immanent and transcendent, fully part of who we are as human beings, but also mysterious. The reality lies only with God, outside of matter, energy, space, and time.

In times of calamity it's easy to become angry with God. How do you process your faith in times of tragedy? This will be the topic of our next Coffee Talk, which will be at 10 a.m., May 4 at Coeur Coffehouse.

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8 comments

  1. When regular people have no political representation, no hope of a fulfilling career, a government that has, morally speaking, completely lost its way in affairs foreign and domestic, and a society where traditional norms of class, gender, and racial privilege are all up for debate, can we really expect anything but a steady trickle of shootings and bombings? Society has told people, especially white young men, that the most important things they can have are wealth and social status. At the same time, society has become a place where fewer and fewer people have either. Of course there’s desperation, rage, and acting out.

    The only thing this has to do with God is that sometimes religion provides an avenue for people to direct and release their rage. But all of the “observed phenomena” come down to the intense social pressure being caused by class shake-ups, austerity, and a failing Western economy. We’re going to see more of this if politicians don’t wake up and do their job of making society a place that’s friendly to human life once again.

  2. I hear ya Sam, but we’re living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world in a time of prosperity no one could have imagined even a hundred years ago. If we can’t make life work, then who can? Everybody’s got their own cars, phones, and more clothes, food and stuff than they know what to do with. Did Grandma have all this? Are you sure our expectations aren’t out of adjustment?

  3. I’m pretty sure life satisfaction is relative, generation to generation. Relative to population, less people are dying early or violently now than any other time sure, and that era also had its violent pyschopaths and killers. But the only meaningful frame of reference you can really count on among humans is their own lifetime’s experience. And this is a relatively stressful time for people. Some of them are going to break, yet if conditions were easier, perhaps they wouldn’t. Maybe people have technological convenience and food is more available but (for young guys especially) your chances to find a mate are lowered, you might not have your own home, or you might even just reasonably imagine these things happening to you, which produces a certain amount of stress in itself.

    I’m sure it’s not unreasonable to think that stressful times cause people to turn to violence. You see this in studies of history all the time. I think when people look at this time in 50 years, with the help of hindsight, they’ll blame these mass shootings and bombings on “nothing more” than a very trying economic time, to put it mildly.

  4. To call us a wealthy nation is just patently false Bruce. You and I both know that our economy is tetering on the brink of collapse. Our debt is growing so fast that the Fed Can’t raise the interest rate to try to incentivize savings over personal debt, our economy would collapse instantly just trying to service the interest on the debt. $17 trillion and counting fast!! If you want to talk about immoral, how about the immorality of saddling our future generations because of our cowardly, failed political policies, both R and D. You’re right about having our priorities all screwed up. I believe that The Lord God of heaven is giving us enough time and freedom to prove how miserable we are without Him. The trajectory of our world situation is exactly what God says it will be in the latter days. Those who surrender to Jesus Christ, who loves us with an everlasting love, will be able to have faith and hope regardless of external circumstances.

  5. I’m sorry you feel that way Dennis. I’m thankful for everything I’ve been given in this country, and I feel that I’ve been given much more than I deserve.

  6. I’d also have take issue with the claim that fewer people are dying early or violently. Our average lifespan may have risen but violent death is on the rise. More Christians have been martyred for their faith in the twentieth century than in all previous. If radicalized Muslims have their way there will be more. I know that is one of the most politically incorrect statements you can make these days but only because we have given in to cover up rather than truth. I googled Quran violence verses tonight and anyone who really cares to know can do the same. And as an answer to the immediate rush to put the Bible in the same light, its violence verses are bound by a historical context to times long past, whereas the Quran is open ended. Muslims compromise .7 % of the US population, be we are already living in fear before them. Just look at all the media cover-ups, too many to list, but one blatant one would be Maj. Husan’s multiple murders of our servicemen.

  7. I’m not talking about what I have Bruce, and to have earned something is no reason for shame. But you’re right, God deserves the glory for anything I have. But another falsehood is that I should feel guilty for the blessings God gives. I’m so thankful that I can turn to the Bible to tell me the truth about Him. I’m talking about this myth that our country is rich. We are living in an illusion that can’t be sustained much longer. In my opinion, that is why DHS is purchasing billions of rounds of hollow point ammo. When the illusion ends there will be chaos. I looked at a montage of raw picture footage from Syria last night. We are living in a dream world.

  8. One more thing, Bruce, that list about our economy is not a “feeling”, it’s objective reality. That’s one of our problems, we refuse to debate facts but turn them into feelings and everyone is entitled to their feelings, right? Truth happens no matter what our feelings are about it. That’s the insidious nature of the deception that’s overtaken our world. We think we can have it any way we want without consequences. We’ve made it all up ourselves and keep saying it all until we now believe it. But truth is real and exists outside of and apart from us frail obstinate humans. Those who find it only find it in the narrow way. Not many will. Majority rule has no affect whatsoever on truth. Pilate asked the most important question in the universe but came up empty. He willfully refused the One Who is the Truth. So will many earth dwellers, as they are called in the Revelation, to their eternal shame and loss.

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