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Questioning a Tragedy: Where is God?

• E-mail Lauren Green

"Virtue in distress and vice in triumph make atheists of mankind."Anonymous

This is a quote I always think of when horrendous events, like the Virginia Tech tragedy, occur. Great tragedies either draw us closer to or away from God.

The worst single shooting incident in U.S. history is slowly sinking into the psyche of this nation. Like the tragedies of past times — such as Columbine and Waco — this one will also be remembered forever. From now on, the name “Virginia Tech” will be synonymous with the murder of 32 people that were shot dead one spring day by a lone gunman, who unleashed holy hell on innocence.

The grief is personal, raw and intense. There will be no escape from the searing pain this loss brings to parents, siblings, friends and the community. We know the greater the love, the greater the pain is when it's lost ... especially when it's sudden and violent.

The process of grief is a long winding course, that includes anger. Many will turn the questioning to God: “Why, God, did this happen? How could a loving God allow this?”

The answers to the questions are complicated, but what many theologians stress is that God is sovereign — although each person has free will to choose between good and evil — and that comfort and hope are found in him. The "whys" to any tragedy may not have satisfying answers soon, or even in this lifetime.

At the convocation on Tuesday afternoon, Virginia’s Governor Tim Kaine made references to calvary, where Jesus died on the cross, and told the thousands gathered that despair is a natural emotion — but not to let it cause you to lose your faith. He talked about Job, the Old Testament's most afflicted servant of God: Even though Job was angry at God he never lost his faith.

President Bush said, "In times like this, we can find grace and strength from a loving God." And, he quoted from the Bible saying, that we should not be "... overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good."

These are the lessons of the Bible.

Those who aren't particularly religious may look for more scientific answers. The focus will then turn to the shooter himself. Why would a student with no criminal past or typical dysfunctional family history commit such horrors? Was he on medication? Was he a psychopath?

We do know that the gunman wrote a story for a creative writing class that was so disturbing he was recommended for counseling. He also may have stalked some female students that he liked, but whose affection were never returned.

If there's any phrase that should raise the shackles of any parent, teacher or friend it's that "he was a loner." That description has been stated at least twice by officials trying to answer the question of why 23-year-old English major Cho Seung-Hui unleased hell on Virginia Tech. They could not find anyone who knew him well, which means there was no one he confided in. He had no close friends, which means there was no one he could cry with, or express his deepest longings to. He was living in a virtual prison of his own making, but blamed others for locking him in it.

In the book, "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil," author Dr. Philip Zimbardo sheds light on the shooter's inner demons. "The Lucifer Effect," based on the Stanford Prison Experiment of 33 years ago, shows how a prison environment creates evil behavior, like what occurred at Abu Ghraib. It explains group or system-wide evil, like that under Hitler, communistic regime or the genocide in Rwanda. He says the evil is not about a few bad apples, but a bad barrel. That's the group dynamic.

But there are other kinds of "prisons" not confined to a place or a building. These are the emotional prisons that "normal" individuals live in daily. Whatever that prison is — whether it’s shyness, loneliness, anger, hate — it can grow to unmanageable proportions, and manipulate an individual into believing that their only course of action is to break out, using any means possible ... even violence.

According to reports, a note left by Cho Seung-Hui talked about the "rich kids," "deceitful charlatans" and "debauchery." And there is also talk that he may have been rejected by a woman, or women, that he had feelings for. Perhaps in Cho's mind, these people were his "jailers" — the wardens of his prison responsible for his emotional incarceration. He vilified them, found them guilty of great offenses and then logically executed his warped sense of justice ... and murdered 32 people.

Both theologians and some secular psychologists agree that all of us are capable of great "evil." We only need the right combinations of events that progress unchecked.

The bottom line is that there are no simple or concrete answers that offer comfort. However Dr. Richard Lints from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, said it's important for Christians and people of all faiths to "be present with people as a sign of hope, not as a sign of explanation, but that we don't give up because of what happened."

So where is God? He is in the prayer vigils. He is in the rivers of tears flowing from everyone affected. He is in the community coming together to offer support to the families. He is at work in the love and strength people are offering each other. God is with us.


• E-mail Lauren Green

Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.


Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996.