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Where is God in a time of tragedy?  A religious response to Sandy Hook

I have waited for a few days before exhaling, hoping that through the pain and the agony would emerge something more compassionate and more sane. 
Yet there is no exhaling.    
There are no words to bring any comfort to a wound that opens up from the innermost part of one’s heart.   
As with most, I have held my own children and kissed them often, even as I mourn along with those who can no longer hold their own loved ones.

Before I am an American, I am a parent.   
Before I am a person of faith, I am a parent.  
I no longer remember what life before my children was like.   
For many of us who are parents, it’s like this. 
This tragedy has been visceral, a cry of the heart that aches even too much to make a sound, an agony that does not let up.

No, it’s not ok, and it will not be ok.     
No, for the parents of these beautiful children and the loved ones of these courageous teachers, it will not be ok.
These parents and loved ones are going to wake up each day, and their most loved ones are still going to be dead.   
It will not be ok.
Out of respect for these aching souls, I will not give in to platitudes; will not try to insult their pain by saying that God has a mysterious plan, and that things will get easier with the passage of time.

I have seen faith communities who in trying to make sense of this madness keep telling us that the children have ascended to Jesus, and that they are in a better place now.    
As a person of faith, I stand here today weeping with you, and I say to you and to us that I do not discern God’s plan.   
These angelic souls have risen to God, but I cannot imagine for the life of me that this violence was God’s will.  
No, this action is not God’s will, but the sign of a world gone mad, a society that has become obsessed with violence, abandoned the mentally ill, and flooded the society with killing machines.  
No, this is not how God would have us live.   
This is how we are choosing to live, and it has to stop.  It has to stop now, now.  
It had to stop yesterday, and before yesterday.

There are those who keep searching for some meaning in the midst of this pain, and ask where God was in the midst of the shooting.   
I don’t see God in the deranged shooter, I don’t see God in the bloodshed, but I do see God in this courageous 27-year old Vicki Soto, who confronted the shooter, putting her own soul and her own body between the shooter and the children she loved so. May God bless her soul and sanctify her. 
God was in her, and with her.  That was one of the moments that I could see God’s will, to see someone act out of the mandate of love and run towards danger to protect the innocent.

God was in the other teachers who ran out after they heard the first shots.    
Many would have thought of their own protection, and no one would have blamed them.  Yet they chose differently.  
Courage is not the absence of fear, it is rising to do what is right through the fear.    These teachers put love before fear, and that is divine.   
I see God in these teachers.

I see God in the children.  
I see God in their wounds, and I see God seeing there with them in their terrified last few seconds. 
The compassionate God of the cosmos is with us in the valley of death and on the mountaintop.  

We are told in the Bible: 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with humanity…. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:3-4

And we are told in Islam that God tells us:  “I am with those whose hearts is broken.”  
Yes, God is with these children, with these teaches, and with those who mourn them.

Ours is a God that is with the brokenhearted, with the terrified, with the marginalized, with the weak and the innocent.   
Ours is a God that is with us for the unimaginable suffering, and there on the other side.

I will not pretend that this tragedy is God’s will, but I do know that God goes through this with us.  We are never alone, never alone.

These tragedies stir out souls, and bring out the most beautiful, the most courageous and the most noble as we saw from the teachers and from the beautiful children who tried to comfort their classmates by assuring them that they knew karate and they would find a way out.   

And these tragedies bring out the nastiest and the pettiest. 
And we have seen this side too. 
Sometimes the cream rises to the top, sometimes the scum.

We hear this pettiness in the callous words of the NRA and their supporters, who keep telling us in shooting after shooting that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  No, you heartless enablers of mass murder.   The blood of these children is also on your hands.    

Yes, guns don’t kill people, mentally deranged people with semi-automatic weapons that have no purpose other than killing who walk into classrooms of innocent six-year old children kill people.   With even one less gun, there would be more parents still hugging their loved one tonight.    How dare you think that your “right” to own killing machines is worth more than the right of our precious children to live?

We see the meanest and the nastiest in those that are using this tragedy to advance their own sense of culture wars.    To those like Mike Huckabee who claim that these tragedies are happening because somehow God is punishing us for not having prayed in schools, I say from the depth of my wounded heart on behalf of these grieving parents and family members: Huckabee, examine your own heart more carefully, and ponder what you would say if you were standing before one of the parents who was burying their martyred children.  Whatever you would say in their presence, mindful of a loving God, say that instead.   

Mr. Huckabee, in all your obsession with the culture wars in this country and “taking God out of the schools”, you have reduced God to a grotesque monstrosity that most of us do not recognize.  The God that we know is a loving and compassionate God, not a vengeful, needy, and petulant monster that lashes out at innocent children because He has been ignored for a while or not prayed to at the “right” place.   That pathetic, pitiful, and small view of God tells us much about the current level of meanness in our society, and nothing about the compassionate and loving God of the whole Universe.

I urge us to keep the focus where it belongs, on the 20 beautiful children and the six courageous teachers.    

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, and Allison.  
We as a nation failed you.   
We ask for your forgiveness.   
We love you, we will weep for you, and pray for you. 

You have names and souls.
Each of you were loved,
All of you are loved.
Your lives matter, and you matter.
We vow to keep the focus on you.

Thank you President Obama for your support and prayers.
Thank you for your eloquent words, and thank you for your tears as a parent.
Mr. President, we need more than your prayers.  We need your leadership now.   
In your prayers at the interfaith gathering, you said: 

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Mr. President, you can begin by banning all semi-automatic weapons, and allocating necessary resources for free and universal mental health.  As you said, these are our neighborhoods, and these are our children. We should not be gathering to mourn our children after yet another mass shooting.   Do what it takes to protect our most innocent.

To the people of Newtown, when we think of this tragedy, we will remember you.  
We will remember your tears, your embrace, your sobbing, your courage, your sacrifice.  
In scripture we are promised that “God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  [Psalms 147:3 ]  
Friends of Newtown, we pray for God to heal you, to bring you the comfort that we cannot, even as we vow to stand with you.   
Your hearts are broken, and God is with you.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted.”  
God was with your children, and with their teachers.
God is with your children, and with their teachers.
God is with you,
and we stand with you.

In nearness to you during your brokenness,
we weep along with the God of the broken-hearted.

We know where God was during the tragedy.
Now comes the difficult part:  Where do we stand, for what cause do we stand?  What do we protect:  the right to bear killing machines, or our children?

Tags: broken-hearted, children, elementary school, god, mass shooting, nra, obama, sandy hook, shooting, teacher, tragedy


  1. God was in Vicki Soto for sure!  A lot of good thoughts here Omid!

  2. Dear Safi,
    The 2 paragraphs at the end of this letter, from your own blog are the most hateful 2 paragraphs intended to point out another persons ugliness imaginable. What hypocrisy. You don’t have a clue as to what Mike Huckabee believes and you missed his point entirely. I have listened to Huckabee for years and I assure you he would never blame God for the death of these beautiful babes struck down by the hand of evil. I have never heard him say anything except that we serve a loving God who gives us a free will and that GOD WEEPS when we do not use that free will to love, but to instead kill, steal and destroy.

    So I will reprimand you and remind you that our nation now needs love not condemnation and scorn.  I think it is mighty sad that as you pointed to Huckabee with one finger you had three pointing back at yourself in revealing you are the one that is clearly the meanest and the nastiest in using this tragedy to advance your own sense of culture wars. (those were your words to Huckabee btw). Huckabee is one of our nations strongest most loving leaders, of which we are in short supply, and to openly say “screw you” to him at a time when our Nation is still reeling from raw unparalleled anguish ...well suffice it to say they are not healing words!

    I could go on and on with how negatively your words you chose to use in the entire letter were words that hurt and provided, not direction, but stirred up bitterness and judgement which was unwarranted especially toward Huckabee.

    These following paragraphs are your words and I believe they could be applied to you, but certainly not Huckabee! I pray you are alarmed at the harshness of your own words and ironically your words are fitting to be said back to you simply for the searing same words spoken about Huckabee.

    We see the meanest and the nastiest in those that are using this tragedy to advance their own sense of culture wars.  To those like Mike Huckabee who claim that these tragedies are happening because somehow God is punishing us for not having prayed in schools, I say from the depth of my wounded heart on behalf of these grieving parents and family members: Huckabee, go screw yourself.  Get down on your knees, repent of this callous arrogance, and beg the parents of these children for forgiveness. 

    Mr. Huckabee, in all your obsession with the culture wars in this country and “taking God out of the schools”, you have reduced God to a grotesque monstrosity that most of us do not recognize.  The God that we know is a loving and compassionate God, not a vengeful, needy, and petulant monster that lashes out at innocent children because He has been ignored for a while or not prayed to at the “right” place.  That pathetic, pitiful, and small view of God tells us about your own meanness of spirit, and nothing about the compassionate and loving God of the whole Universe.

  3. This article is far too dramatic and mean spirited. I also do not agree that stricter gun control is the answer to this violence. Bad guys will still find the means they need to do bad things regardless of how difficult it is for people to purchase arms for protection or recreation.

  4. Stop with all your “religious” drivel which is based on the philosophies of men. The question everyone is wondering is WHY these bad things happen.

    Because, 1 JOHN 5:19!


  5. Excellent post Dr. Safi. Keep inspiring, never mind these internet trolls who only spew hate.

  6. There is an Arab proverb that goes something like “he with a feather over his head reaches for it”. It means the guilty always are so paranoid of being discovered they overeact and give themselves away.
    What some politicians have done, in fostering the spread of these signs that are conversations between two people, one asking why God let this happen and the other saying because God isn’t allowed in school, is the most grotesque representation of this incident. It suggests that we control God, tell God where to and where not to go, and seeks to speak for God. Yes, that is portraying God as one who vengefully lashes out at children because in a country that is home is so many religions, it is unfair to promote one of those religions in public schools.
    The emotion in Omid’s blog is evident, but he made no apology for that. As a parent he has the right to speak on the incident, and as an American he has the right to be critical of a politician who, by the way, is now backtracking and regretting his words.
    Get upset at the people who claim that they can tell God where to go, or think they can, and ask yourself what they represent.
    Bad things happen because we let them. And that is the problem here. Our need to feel powerful took precedence over our families, and it has not made us more American.
    Sometimes when we say all we want is love what we mean is that we don’t want disagreement, errors to be exposed, reality to face us. We want to hide in the image of love because it gives us validation. We have love, and what Omid is expressing is love. But true love is one that works, that seeks to create, protect, and change. True love makes a difference, and that comes with the pain of truth.
    I see far more hate and anger, and insults, in these responses than I do in this article. What I see in the article is anger over something horrific and wanting change. What I see in the responses are people who are to afraid to accept that change means they aren’t right anymore.
    If you choose love, create change.
    And before you denounce “religious drivel”, remember it is such drivel that drove Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. to change the world, while the comfortable also called them liars, haters, and trouble-makers.
    Take responsibility for the society we create. Don’t say bad things just happen. We voted it in, we paid for it, we allowed it, and what we continue to cling to is the ideal we think our actions should create, and the reality that it actually creates.
    As Omid said, as a nation, we failed these kids and their teachers. We have to face that. And do something about it.

  7. It’s hard to hear these words because they burn - burn all the dross of a dim
    witted public that is anesthetized to the matters of the soul, the heart of a
    parent, the care of a teacher, the nurture of a community, and what disaster
    comes from the lack of all these supports.

    Thank you, yet again Omid, for telling painful truths. There may be a deeper joy that comes from the realization of new life in Newtown CT arising from the ashes of death created by this monstrous event, and yes, I pray too for the soul of that sick minded shooter, killing his mom to steel himself to kill the innocent.

    I speak from experience: my younger brother killed his pet dog before he killed himself.

    Oscar Wilde said it best:
    Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
    By each let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!

    But one must add: the sickliest
    of all kill what they love with a
    semi-automatic gun!

    I think that the genuine pathos
    here is the self-hatred that
    the young man had towards
    his older brother, his mother,
    and himself, The little children
    were the surrogates for what
    he hoped to be, but knew he
    never could be. He destroyed
    them because their dream
    existence was the mirror opposite
    of his own nightmare

    It is a sorry commentary, but
    thank you, Omid, for flushing it

  8. Beautifully and powerfully said! We need to forge the love felt by parents and families everywhere for our children in a unified demand for non-violence at every level—gun violence, domestic violence, war violence. The thought I’ve had since Friday is that the right of children to live needs to trump the “right” to own semiautomatic human-hunting weapons. Might be time for another amendment to the Constitution.

  9. The U. S. Constitution allows our citizens the right to protect themselves and their property. It does not allow the citizens to be disarmed, but limits can be established. Private citizens are not at present allowed to carry fully automatic weapons is an example. Indeed, the horror described wasn’t God’s plan, but was an act of extreme evil. Those left behind WILL feel better in time, but they will never be the same!

  10. May God bless the victims of this tragedy. May their pure souls ascend in grace. May God bless the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends who have lost their dear ones. May their devastated hearts endure the darkness of this ordeal and find the strength to carry on in faith and hope. May God bless the shooter. May his soul, enshrouded in a dark and nightmarish trance, awaken one day to the light of love and truth, and meet, at last, with forgiveness. May God bless Mike Huckabee. May we have, indeed, space for prayer in our schools - space for Jewish prayer, Christian prayer, Muslim prayer, indigenous prayer, Buddhist prayer, and for many other ways of prayer and meditation. May spirituality and ethics, broadly and deeply understood, more and more become fundamental components of the education our children receive. And may God bless you, Dr. Safi. May your passionate witness to peace and justice resound throughout the land and inspire many, many hearts. Amin.

  11. P.S. By “May God bless the shooter,” I trust readers will understand, I mean not to pray that his horrific crime may receive any form of approval or reward. I mean instead to pray that his soul may, in the hereafter, learn to feel the pain of those of have suffered so terribly by his hand, and may be lifted out of the darkness of anger and hatred into the light of pure, all-redeeming love.

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