Are We Living In Hell? The Sandy Hook School Massacre and the Presence of God

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Posted on December 15th, 2012 | Filed under Featured, News, Theology, Uncategorized
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If this is, as various Christians claim, a world in which the reign of the divine is both now and not yet, and the presence and purpose of God is somehow “realized” here and now, then ought we not also take just as seriously the absence of God?  Hell, if there is such a thing, is most certainly just as realized in the here and now as well, if not more so than its contrary.

In short, we experience the pain, absurdity, and suffering of a realized hell every day.  I did not think I’d ever live to see a day in which the world would experience a realized hell on par with the grotesque examples of evil dreamed up by Dostoevsky and placed in the fictional mouth of Ivan Karmazov (but sadly the world is and has been full of these instances).  Ivan recounts story after story of the absurd violence exhibited by rebels, which only humans are capable of:

"People speak sometimes about the 'animal cruelty' of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to animals, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.  A tiger simply gnaws and tears, that is all he can do.  It would never occur to him to nail people by their ears overnight, even if he were able to do it. These rebels, among other things, have also taken a delight in torturing children, starting with cutting them out of their mother’s wombs with a dagger, and ending with tossing nursing infants up in the air and catching them on their bayonets before their mother’s eyes.  The main delight comes from doing it before their mothers’ eyes. … Imagine a nursing infant in the arms of its trembling mothers, surrounded by rebels.  They've thought up an amusing trick: they fondle the baby, they laugh to make it laugh, and they succeed – the baby laughs.  At that moment a rebel aims a pistol at it, four inches from its face.  The baby laughs gleefully, reaches out its little hands to grab the pistol, and suddenly the artist pulls the trigger right in its face and shatters its little head … artistic, isn't it? … I think that if the devil does not exist, and man has therefore created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”[1]

Setting aside Ivan’s gloomy anthropology and ultimate rejection of the divine (after which he eventually contracts “brainfever”), there remains wisdom in his insistence on the reality of realized damnation in the here and now.  Where is your God in this grotesque suffering?  Where is God in the Connecticut school massacre?

Of being imprisoned at Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel, in Night, recounts:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp.  The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour.  ‘Where is God?  Where is he?’ someone asked behind me.  As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’  And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he?  He is here.  He is hanging there on the gallows …’[2]

Where is God?  If this world is a realized presence and absence of the divine, then perhaps God is right there suffering alongside those schoolchildren and is equally outraged and downtrodden by the absurdity of it all.


     [1] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), 238-239; I changed "Turk" and "Turks" to "rebel" and "rebels" respectively

     [2] Elie Wiesel, Night. (New York: Avon Books, 1969), 75; quoted by Moltmann, 274.

(Photo used with permission from Department of Defense, public domain.)

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Hans Gustafson currently serves as the assistant director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at Saint John's University (Collegeville, MN) and the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN), where he also teaches in the theology department. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Theology from Claremont Graduate University. Follow him on Twitter @hansgustafson and his blog at hansgustafson.wordpress.com/


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