This week's question comes via e-mail. "If a young man is murdered, does God consider this as his destiny or as an act of evil upon him?"
It seems to me our writer is asking a question on two levels-the presenting level and another question that seeks to know whether or not God is somehow behind these acts, and if not, perhaps empowered to do something about them.
The question of murder in the Bible is pretty straightforward. According to Exodus 20.13 "You shall not murder." Murder, then, is generally frowned upon in scripture. Which doesn't mean it didn't happen in the name of Israel on a number of occasions, nor that God isn't "blamed" for instigating it now and again. Certainly Cain's slaying of Abel (Genesis 4) was considered treacherous and wrong as was King David's plot to kill Uriah in 2nd Samuel 11. In neither case does God sanction these killings nor are the murders held guiltless.
But what of the victims? Was this simply their fate or does God look upon their demise as somehow out-of-time?
According to scripture, God's eye is upon all of us all of the time. The whole story of Jonah includes a moral that we cannot hide from God. Jesus himself said that God keeps his eye on the sparrows and so we can count on God to keep his eye on us too (Matthew 10.29-31). And, if in the words of scripture and Bette Midler, God is "watching us from a distance" then there seems to be a sense that God is somehow concerned with all that transpires.
Not only that, but there is a sense, especially in the New Testament, that God has some sort of plan for each person-that God wants each of us to achieve our maximum potential. "I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it abundantly" (John 10.10). Further, Jesus says it is not the will of God that "any of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18.14). God has a special place in God's heart for "little ones" and to pass off an act of violence as mere "fate" does violence to scripture.
The word "fate" conveys more than simple luck or bad luck. Fate implies that there is some sort of destiny that is manifest in a person, perhaps in each person. The Greek tragedies were champions of such thinking. However, scripture clearly teaches that we have at least a modicum of choice in our lives and that these choices are based on free-will, not on some pre-scripted notion of a deity-nor of blind chance (cf. John 3.16 "whosoever will..")
Given that "fate" is a concept foreign to scripture, our writer leaves us with one other option-that someone intentionally committed an act of violence against another. I believe the Bible clearly teaches this is the case. God's reaction to Cain's murder of Abel illustrates this: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brothers blood from your hand" (Genesis 4.10-11). God curses Cain for his evil (but notice, he does not exact capital punishment). In King David's case God sends Nathan the prophet to proclaim David's guilt (2 Samuel 12). Biblically, murder is viewed as a great evil of one person upon another.
But if God's eye is on each of us and if it isn't God's will that any of these little ones should perish, why does God allow murder at all? The answer to that question seems quite unsatisfactory to any who have lost a loved one to murder, but the fact remains that God has left us in control of this world and has given us free will. This means that I have the choice of following Jesus' teachings or not. I choose whether or not to go to church. And it means I have the choice of doing good with my life or doing evil with my life. And so, if for whatever reason someone chooses to murder someone else, it is ultimately because of the gift and the grace of free will that allows them to do so. It isn't right. It isn't good. But it's nonetheless the product of God's gift to us to be free and independent souls.
As I said, it's not comforting nor does it even seem "good." But the fact remains that by God allowing us to choose our own "fate" in life by making all our own decisions (and suffering the consequences of those decisions), God must allow us to do evil. How often I wish it were not so as I watch the Headline News, but the alternative is that God creates us to be automatons who have no choices but only a fate.
Fate or choice? I'm not sure I'm happy with either option, but then, God didn't ask me which I preferred.