When tragedies strike–think school shootings at Newtown, Virginia Tech, or Columbine–great cries go out to ask, “Where was God?” Typically these are not expressions of the covenantal complaining we read in the Psalms, where God’s people expect God to keep his promises yet find him to be silent, delayed, or otherwise absent. No, the “Where was God?” in our culture is most often a scoffing, bitter accusation laid down as a trump card to question whether God exists in the first place, or if he does, whether he is worth our attention.
Then come those moments when some remarkable divine intervention takes place, and the question of “Where was God?” is answered. Take last week’s thwarted shooting in Decatur, GA. Michael Brandon Hill, a 20-year old plagued by mental illness, walked into the McNair Discovery Learning Academy with an AK-47 rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, and in his words, “nothing to live for.” It was Newtown, Virginia Tech, and Columbine all waiting to happen again. Except it did not. Even though she was not supposed to work that day, bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff was in the office when Hill broke in to initiate his mayhem. The mother of a son with multiple disabilities, Tuff spoke to the would-be mass murderer with compassion, calm, and resolve. Her words soothed his frenzy as she opened up about her recent, heartbreaking divorce, her subsequent suicide attempt, and the challenges of parenting and providing as a single mother. She affirmed her love for Hill and spoke words of hope into his life. After an hour of pacing, firing occasional shots, reloading his weapons, and processing his anguish out loud, Michael Brandon Hill finally listened to Antoinette Tuff’s words. He set his guns on the table and laid face down on the ground where the police apprehended him.
What was going on in Antoinette’s mind during the most intense hour of her life? Here are her words: “My pastor, he just started this teaching on anchoring, and how you anchor yourself in the Lord. I just sat there and started praying. I just remembered the teaching and how he taught us how to consult people when they’re bereaving.” Tuff continued, “I realized at that time that it was bigger than me. He was really a hurting young man so I just started praying for him, just started talking to him and allowing him to know some of my life stories and what was going on with me, and that it was going to be OK and he could just give himself up.” And why did Hill give himself up? Tuff could only respond, “I have no idea. That was nobody but God. I can’t even put that on myself. I was praying hard.”
It is not ours to understand why 500 rounds of ammunition went unused that day in Decatur while the parents of 20 children and 6 employees of Sandy Hook Elementary School still grieve their loss. But it is ours to point to the obvious intervention of God in this potential tragedy and to the question “Where was God?” reply, “God was there. He was in that school office, listening to Antoinette Tuff’s prayers, strengthening her, bringing to her mind the words to say, and preserving the lives of hundreds of children.”
These stories do not linger in our minds as do the tragedies, and perhaps that is as it should be. We certainly do not want to downplay the very real anguish in our world. But we, like Israel coming out of Egypt, too often forget the stories of God’s gracious, sovereign intervention. Whether we are taken or spared, these stories should embolden us to walk confidently with our God. As we sing at church, “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind; the God of angel armies is always by my side.”
Indeed, this was the song that came on the radio one minute after a friend of ours experienced an unusual divine intervention last week. She was at a stop light in Tempe, and after the light turned green she found herself immobilized for about 3 seconds. As she sat there, wondering why she could not move a muscle, a car flew through the red light at 50 MPH. It could have killed her, but God intervened. Our friend may have other areas in life where she wonders, “Where is God?” but as she felt herself again able to drive that night, the answer was clear: God was there.
You can read more about the events in Decatur, GA here.