In the wake of the senseless tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many people are asking, “Where was God?” Our hearts are broken with the tragic loss of innocent life in Florida, and we pray daily for God’s comfort and peace for the shattered lives of the families of these victims. But still, people will ask, “Why didn’t God stop this?” That is a question that deserves an answer.
The truth may be that God was made unwelcome and left. God submits Himself to the law of faith, and will not go where He is not wanted. He will not force us to put up with Him if we don’t want Him around. It may be that His protective presence is being removed from our land and from our schools because He has been told repeatedly that His protective presence is not welcomed, needed, or wanted.
We have, as a culture, systematically booted God from our public schools for over five decades. In 1962, the Supreme Court issued a diktat stating that American schools could no longer seek His help and protection. In 1963, the Supreme Court issued a second diktat prohibiting the reading of His Word in our public schools. And in 1980, the Supreme Court issued a third diktat prohibiting the display or teaching of the Ten Commandments, God’s abiding and transcendent moral standard for human conduct.
When the Supreme Court ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments from schools - even though the Decalogue can be seen in four different places in and on the Supreme Court’s very own building - they complained that the Commandments had no “secular purpose.”
William Rehnquist quite properly dissented, pointing out that "the Ten Commandments have had a significant impact on the development of secular legal codes of the Western World.” So much for not having a secular purpose or effect.
But the 1980 Court, in all its benighted wisdom, removed God’s standard of morality with this utterly absurd explanation: “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause of the Constitution."
Well, if you’re looking for a “secular purpose” or a “permissible state objective,” how about stopping mass shootings in schools? The 6th Commandment says quite bluntly, “You shalt not murder.” What in the world could possibly be wrong with schools having students “read, meditate, venerate, and obey” that commandment?
How about school districts, for a time, post just those words, “You shalt not murder,” on the message boards in front of every school in their district, all across America? After all, it supports every criminal code in America, all of which contain the same prohibition.
(The American Family Association has drafted an open letter to America’s schools which you can read and sign here. After you sign it, be sure to contact your school administrator with a request that he post the message for a week on the school’s marquee.)
Perhaps if students were exposed to that message every day and reminded of it frequently, it would increase the value they place on human life and reduce their inclination to terminate it. It’s certainly worth a try. After all, how has preventing students from being exposed to this message been working for us?
So God is no longer prayed to, His counsel is no longer sought, and His standards are no longer respected. Is it any wonder that He might not be around when we need Him? If we have spent 50 years telling Him to get lost, it should not come as a surprise that we eventually begin to feel the absence of His powerful presence.
There is a sobering segment in the book of Ezekiel (8:1-11:25) which describes the glory of the Lord slowly, gradually, and reluctantly departing from the temple and from the nation. God speaks there of the “abominations” that “drive me far from my sanctuary” (8:6). Included in these abominations: “the land is full of blood and the city full of injustice” (9:9).
As a result, God’s presence was slowly withdrawn from the temple and from the people. It moved from the “inner court” (8:3) to the “threshold” of the temple (9:3), to the “east gate” of the temple (10:19), and finally “to the mountain that is on the east side of the city” (11:23). And then He was gone. His glory, His power, His protection, His manifest presence was driven from the land by its rebellion, defiance, and immorality.
They had driven Him so far away that He was beyond the reach of their prayers. “Though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them” (9:18).
Theologians refer to a distinction between God’s real presence and his manifest presence. His real presence is everywhere; there is no place where His existential presence cannot be found.
But His manifest presence is a different thing. That’s when God’s power, blessing, and protection is seen, felt, and manifest. And God has given to us the responsibility to draw forth His manifest, protecting presence through our public acknowledgment of our need for Him. This we have obstinately refused to do in our schools for half a century. If God is to be taken at His word, it should surprise no one that we are now reaping the bitter fruit of our defiance.
Now to be sure, we have an active part in being co-workers with God in providing security for our schools. God works through us and with us, not apart from us, to provide protection. Without the watchman, there is no one for him to work through. Without God, the watchman is helpless. We must learn from the example of Nehemiah, who recorded that, in rebuilding the fallen ruins of the nation of his day, “we prayed and set a guard” (Nehemiah 4:9). Not one or the other, but both. We need both God and armed guardians for our children to be protected.
He will not go where He is not wanted. He will give us what we want, a godless, secularized nation, helpless against evil and the evil one.
The best security for a school as well as a home is God and a loaded gun. It’s been heartening to see more and more public officials, including our president, forcefully acknowledge that we must begin to allow trained school personnel to carry concealed weapons to protect our precious charges from mad men. There are model school districts in Ohio, Texas, and elsewhere that are already implementing common sense programs to do this very thing.
God has given us minds, the Second Amendment, and weapons to use in defense of ourselves and our children. It’s time we started using them all.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin reminded the Founders that God is a “powerful Friend,” that they had foundered because they had “forgotten” Him, and had “imagine[d] we no longer need His assistance.” He reminded them that during the contest with Britain, they had prayed daily for “Divine protection,” and that those prayers “were heard, & they were graciously answered,” and that as a result, they had “observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor.”
He said pointedly that “God governs in the affairs of men,” and added, “If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” The answer to this rhetorical question was obvious. He, therefore, begged the Founders to “implor[e] the assistance of Heaven” not just occasionally but “every morning.” We must return to the historic practice of doing the same in our public schools. It is the very least we can do out of our love for innocent children and our desire to protect them from harm.
If the Founders, as wise, educated, intelligent, and resourceful as they were, could not accomplish their purposes without seeking God’s help on a daily basis, how can we possibly think we can protect our school children without doing the same? It is long past time, Supreme Court or no, to return prayer, the Scriptures, the Ten Commandments, and God himself to our public schools.