By Stan Friedman
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN (December 21, 2012) – Even in this country so torn by daily violence, people are asking theological questions about the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the quaint community of Newtown, Connecticut.
U.S. Army Major and Covenant Chaplain John Grauer spoke about the murders at the end of his sermon to troops here last Sunday.
Throughout the week, Grauer says, “They kept coming up to me and asking, ‘Where was God?’ ”
Grauer is a man well acquainted with grief. Since deploying again to Afghanistan in August, Grauer has presided weekly over Dignified Transfer Ceremonies, memorial services that honor soldiers who have been killed in the line of duty. The services are held just prior to the caskets being loaded on planes that will return the fallen troops to their homes.
Grauer expounded on Psalm 91, which speaks of God’s refuge. Grauer shared, “God’s refuge was in the teacher who got in front of the students. God’s refuge was in the counselors and friends putting their arms around the grief-stricken and frightened. God’s refuge is in the people who pray, who put their arms around someone and who wipe the tears away, and in God’s grace.”
It is a view repeated by other Covenant pastors. In an email sent to Covenant Communications, Mick Murphy, pastor of Calvary Covenant Church in Evansville, Minnesota, writes:
“If the Church is going to seriously proclaim the name ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God with us’, the Church is going to have to be able to proclaim that not only was God not absent from Sandy Hook school, God was right in the thick of things.
“God was in Principal Dawn Hochsprung who, with her dying breath, hurled her small body at the gunman and took the opening bullets that set off the bells of warning.
“God was in Victoria Soto, who threw herself between a thug’s bullets and her students.
“God was in Anne Marie Murphy (no relation), a special education teacher whose body was found slumped over her students, some of them dead as well, but others alive.
“God was in Janet Vollman, a kindergarten teacher who slammed and locked the door, herded the kids into a tight space in the far corner of the room and started to read a book to calm them down and distract them from the shots in the background.
God was in another teacher who locked down the room, shoved the kids to a far corner and, when the cops knocked on the door and sounded the All Clear, made one of them slide his badge under the door to see if he was the Real Deal.
“God was in First Responders, in cops, ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, clergy, friends, neighbors – the fingerprints of God were everywhere.
“The hard news of the Bible is that the world is the playground of evil. It is nice to think that the purpose of God is to keep us from harm, but in a world where free will and evil strike deadly bargains, the purpose of God is to get us through harm and into a safe place, and that safe place is in his eternal presence.”
One place where the question has been asked less is in Newtown, say those who live and have ministered there.
Jack and Becca Dowling, Covenanters with the Billy Graham Evangelist Association Rapid Response Team who have been in the community since Saturday, say almost no one has asked them or others on the 10-person team that question.
“People want to receive God’s comfort now,” says Jack, who also is serving as interim pastor at Glenburn Covenant Church in Glenburn, Maine. “They want people to pray with them.”
“No one is asking where God was. They’re going to God for help.” says Alma Kearns, a member of Covenant Congregation Church in Easton, Massachusetts, but is a resident of Newtown and was a substitute teacher at Sandy Hook. “They know he is there for them.”
Murphy said his church would set out 28 memorial luminaria prior to the congregation’s 4 p.m. Christmas Eve service. He said the luminaria represent a sign of light and hope in the midst of despair and darkness.