A Lutheran pastor and contributor to right-wing website The Federalist has written a column arguing that the mass shooting of 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas was all part of God's benevolent plan to deliver Christians from "eternal evil."
Pastor Hans Fiene, a relatively unknown clergyman and conservative commentator, drew attention to himself this week with an article bearing the provocative title, "When The Saints Of First Baptist Church Were Murdered, God Was Answering Their Prayers.”
His article was a response to Sunday's mass shooting perpetrated by gunman Devin Patrick Kelley who killed 26 people and injured 20 — the deadliest mass shooting in a place of worship in modern history.
Fiene's argument revolves around the words "deliver us from evil" from the Lord's Prayer. “It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children,” he wrote. “But we are also praying that God... deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.”
In other words, while God did not protect the victims from "evil" on Sunday, it's okay because he has saved them from evil for eternity by letting them into Heaven.
Of course, in order to find these words compelling, one has to be a Lutheran Christian. Fiene does not address whether people of other faiths — Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. — would also get a fast track to Heaven if they were gunned down mid-worship. Nor does he address whether the one-year-old baby, who was among 8 children killed on Sunday, got into Heaven since he must have lacked the language skills to pray or understand the concept of an afterlife.
The most charitable interpretation of Fiene's essay is that he was attempting to offer comfort to his fellow believers in a time of tragedy. Like a priest at a funeral, he tells people, "I know you're sad, but take comfort in your faith that your loved ones are in a better place."
The core problem with arguments like Fiene's is that it tells people that death is not real, and thus tragedies are not that tragic. It takes the attention off politics and into theology, lulling people into a sense that nothing can be done. (After all, it's in "God's hands.")
Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, there is no question that preventing further gun violence in America will come from solutions in this life, not the next one. Better gun laws and mental health programs are the domain of government, not God.