Where was God in Norway?

Jul 27th, 2011 in Daily Devotional by Jim Denison
A sign of love for Oslo is seen inside of a sea of flowers and lit candles placed in memory of those killed in Friday's bomb and shooting attack in front of Oslo Cathedral July 25, 2011

A sign of love for Oslo is seen inside of a sea of flowers and lit candles placed in memory of those killed in Friday's bomb and shooting attack in front of Oslo Cathedral July 25, 2011 (Credit: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay )

Where were the Norwegian police while Anders Breivik was shooting innocent civilians last Friday?  They have only one police helicopter; its crew were on holiday at the time of the attacks. Today their chief of staff states, “You always try to be better but I don’t see how we could have been faster.”

God is not limited to a single helicopter.  Where was he in Norway last Friday?

Innocent suffering asks the hardest questions Christians must answer.  We believe that God is all-knowing, so he was aware of last Friday’s shooting before it ever happened.  He is all-powerful, so he could have stopped Breivik before he began his murderous rampage.  He is all-loving, so he would want to prevent such horror.  Yet he did not.  Let’s think together about the terrible tragedy in Norway and the problems you are facing today.

Like a physician, we’ll begin with a diagnosis—what caused the shooting?  One possibility is misused human freedom.  Suppose that God created us for relationship with himself and others.  He would then be required to give us free will so we could enter such relationships.  It is the same principle as a teacher permitting his students to take a test unsupervised or a parent allowing her teenager to use the car.  If they misuse this freedom, whose fault would the consequences be?

A second option is Satan.  If we suppose that he exists, what do we know of his character?  Jesus called him “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44) who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).  Peter warned us that he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Could he have used Anders Breivik’s misused freedom to commit such a murderous tragedy?

Now let’s think about a response.  If God is all-powerful, he could have prevented this event by removing the consequences of misused freedom.  But is free will without consequence truly free?  If you chose not to open this essay, but it appears every time you open an email, was your choice real?

How could God express his love without removing our freedom?  If he is all-present, he could suffer with us.  He promised us, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2).  If he is truly God, he could redeem what we endure for even greater good.  The Psalmist was certain that he would: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me” (Psalm 138:7).

God’s word promises that he is working through all things for good, in ways we can understand and ways we cannot (Romans 8:28).  Do you believe that your Father keeps his promises?

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  • Dear Dr. Denison, Thank you for having the courage to address the Norway tragedy. When I heard of it on the news, the first thing I thought was, “How could God let this happen?”. And wondered… If He could let this happen to so many innocent people, why should He care about what happens to me? Perhaps God allows tragedies so that we do ask Him questions and, thereby, get closer to Him. And, we don’t know of the times when God has prevented tragedies from happening. He has his perfect plan and sometimes it involves circumstances that our limited human brains could never understand. What we can do now is pray for the victims and their families and friends. Thank you again. James A. Eckert, D.C.

  • Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. But against th rulers, the authorities , the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the whole armor of God. So that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to take your stand and having done everything, to stand!

  • Doug Kaufmann

    Having worked in the medical field for 40 years following my Vietnam homecoming, I well know that there is one cause of tragic events like these that few seem to know about and if they do, they don;t talk about it. Yes, Satan is busy preparing for such events and yes, misuse is also involved, but what would provoke such a heinous crime?

    Read what is said about those who would commit a crime of this magnitude (or columbine high school, or many others) and you’ll always find the hidden clue. The media begins reporting the depressive episodes that the perpetrator had suffered from. They point out that each was seeking psychiatric help, sometimes for years before the event. That clue always leads to the proper cause; prescriptive drugs. Know to provoke aberrant behavior such as mania, surely one must conclude that drugs are often the cause. Yet, why would the media, paid billions of advertising dollars by drug companies ever teach us of the dangers associated with these chemicals? They wouldn’t, but now you know~

    • Thank God there are prescription drugs that give tormented individuals a chance at a normal, productive, healthy lifestyle. Mental illness is as real as diabetes and until you’ve raised a child or taken care of a loved one with a mental handicap you have no idea what they go through. Drugs are of course a last resort and to presume the individual hasn’t tried every other option before taking them is ludicrous! And guess what? Sometimes prayer does not heal these people, in fact one could say that prayer is what helped these people find the prescription drugs they need and that the drugs were the answer to prayer. You obviously have no idea how much suffering individuals with true mental illness go through. Thank God there is something to help them.

  • Absolutely. This is a large part of our faith – many things we do not understand and may never understand in our life on this earth but God is all knowing and good.

  • Jim,

    Mr. Breivik’s error was not in his “the exercise of his free will;” it was in his choice of weaponry to fight the Kingdom fight.

    Instead of guns and bombs and terror, he should, as a “Christian,” selected the Scriptures, intercessory prayer and love to advance a return to the correct worldview in Norway.

    He is right in that “Islam” is a false religion, and that it is an unacceptable partner in our Western civilization (in particular.) But, as Jesus dealt with idol worship in his day, so must we: NO BLOODSHED on the part of the infidels.

    You do realize that the “god” of Islam is the household “moon-god” of Mohammed, don’t you? It is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Most people don’t understand this. And the Muslim don’t understand to whom they are worshipping – that pagan idol.

  • Mary K. Ricks

    I know God keeps his promises. We need to look back at our past to see his promises that he has kept in our lives. When my child had cancer and my husband lost his job shortly after that, I wondered where God was in the midst of all of this trouble. Later we qualified for some insurance help that had we of had 2 incomes, we would not of been elgible.When trouble comes and it will in this life, I have a small rock on my desk that quotes 1 Samuel 1:12, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

  • “Innocent suffering asks the hardest questions Christians must answer.”

    I am not certain if we must answer every cause and effect of innocent suffering (yes we can try our best to obtain the answer within our human capacity but that is not possible I believe, for this reason the power of the prayer becomes the essential part of the answer to this question). Can we know every cause and effect of our behaviors? I expect God does not want to reveal such answer as you say because He already did that on the cross for us to know. We are limited in scope in understanding and knowing in so many aspects of our lives. For some they are gifted to know more than others about the causal relationships of human tragedies but there has been no one in the world at that level of intelligence except Jesus Christ. But I reserve this gift that I have been given to cherish, in not knowing, which is to know that I am under the guidance of God’s creation.

    I ask you to go back to the recent history, the Holocaust. What tragedy and a mystery surrounding that event that took place from 1941 to 1944 until the Russians finally uncovered the evil acts of German regime. The killing of Jews was a systematic, an extremely well planned act to kill every Jews in the world. Thousands of soldiers and the local peoples participated in the death camps to the killing fields in the Eastern Europe. Germans tried to cover it up as best they could as they planned these executions.

    When we realized that the planners of the genocide are born from a common stock of human race, you wonder how they were able to plan the genocide of such scope and executed the operation and able to live normally as a human being every day. And also how can those who lived with the lies to save their lives in the court room after the war? The killers knew what they were doing and it was an evil act but they did it anyway and tried to get away with it and many did escape from paying the price of consequences.

    There are three peoples involved in the evil acts in the genocide: killers, victims, and witnesses. They are all human beings. My question is not what killers had done and what victims had gone through because we know them well by the news and the history. The present day headlines are full about the killers and the victims. The question is why the killers and the victims attract our attention so much? But what we Christians have known for ages is that the witnesses are the key components in keeping these evil acts from coming back again. Is the witness’s responsibility end by telling the truth after the event took place? I believe, the witness must tell the truth before that event takes place.

    We cannot allow the evils to appear in our neighborhoods because the evilness is within us too. Can we do that, yes we can! As a Christian we need to work on ourselves and behave the way Christ walked because He is the way, the truth and the life. As a group, we have many organizations that do that every day in the world but not enough in numbers. We must be diligent to pursue the work to fight the evils that exist within us every day. God has shown us the mercy with His example. Are we willing to sacrifice as He did in the name of right thing to do when it comes?

    I do not know what possessed the Germans to systematically kill the Jews and others when they knew the right from the wrong. Most leaders who committed the crime did enjoy the killings. Are we willing to do such thing? If you say, no, you do not comprehend the evilness that exists within us. It is chilling and scary!

  • Excellent. Thanks for putting thought and Bible reference together.

  • Right on. May God continue to bless, guide, and use each of us. With gratitude!

  • Kandace Phelps

    Dr. Denison, your humility in handling information in light of truth credits you. God is love, your gentleness speaks of the nearness of the Lord to your heart, Philippians 4:5.

    If we look at tragedy and try to understand God’s unconditional love in that situation, well then we will struggle. If however, we look at God’s love, and live in nearness to Jesus that gentles our hearts, THEN we find the capacity to love in the face of hate, forgive in the face of evil, hope in the face of tragedy…then we find rest without God explaining Himself.

    I have no illusions, if it were closer to home, there is no guarantee of genuinely demonstrating Jesus’ character and light to a lost world, I can only hope I would…just like the Amish community did after the 2006 school shooting. Their dependence on Jesus’ teachings shone brightly how intended evil can used for good and for God’s glory. We pray with you for God to receive glory in Norway and the world through this tragedy.

  • You may want to read “The Garden of Emuna” by Rabbi Shalom Arush, translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody…We must accept that all is part of G_d’s plan, even things we see as clearly being vicious evil like what happened in Norway

  • I have wrestled with this same question and came up with an answer similar to yours. We could also ask “Where was God when Hitler was murdering (through his SS surrogates) 6 million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political enemies, local Communist leaders, etc., etc., etc.” I have an even more difficult time with why tens of thousands can die in “natural disasters” (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., etc., etc. which cannot be blamed on mankind in any way. Where is God when these catastrophes occur? And why does he allow them?

  • Yes, He always keeps His promises, but with me, at least, He always “comes to the rescue” just in the “nick of time”. Why doesn’t He save me/us sooner from troubles and pain? My belief is that we will learn to extend our faith to the nth degree and learn to totally rely on His plan and His love for us. Immediate relief doesn’t tend to teach us very deeply.

  • This is an excellent way of explaining why this tragedy happened. I am copying it to give to my non christian friends when they ask this question. Thanks

  • The absolute worse thing a parent can do in my opinion is not to teach their children from a young age that actions have consequences. I think every time a parent removes negative consequences they child is encouraged to take a greater risk and as this perpetuates the final consequence for their child is often death. As a Christian I believe the consequence of not accepting Jesus as my savior is eternity in hell separated from God! If God removed bad consequences from my life every day then why would I not think that the price for rejecting Jesus is not really hell, God will let it slide just like all the other times!

  • Nathanial Sullivan

    Dr. Denison,

    I thank you for trying and walk the many readers of your blog through issues like this in a fallen world. I think you have done so with grace and understanding.

    I have a question in regards to some of the words you used when explaining the fact that “Gos must be required to give men free will”. As much as I believe that men are responsible for their actions before God I dont think that was the best way to say it. At least I was confused in any regard. I was wondering if you could explain what you mean by that and if there are certain “rights” we have as creations as opposed to others.

  • Reagan Gasaway

    In Rom. 8:28 I thought it says that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I am not clear on how this wonderful passage of scripture is applicable here. As you have taught us God is never caught by surprise however, I need some clarification on the last part of the essay for today. Thank you, Reagan

  • “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28


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