Chapter 1 - The line is drawn

It would have to be a teacher's worst nightmare.

Imagine that you are a high school English teacher. You are standing at the front of the classroom working through the day's lesson. Perhaps you and your students are studying verb conjugation, or analyzing one of Shakespeare's plays. It is another normal day in the American education system, and you have a lot of material to cover.

Then the sound fills your classroom. Gunshots. And screaming. A gunman has entered the school and is shooting at people as he makes his way down the hallway toward your classroom.

What would you do?

If you were English teacher Neva Rogers at Red Lake high school, you would take immediate action. You would shut off the lights in the classroom. You would close and lock the classroom door. [ref] You would tell your students to crouch in a corner of the classroom to get out of harm's way. Then you would stand in the middle of the room and begin praying to God. According to student witnesses, Ms. Rogers prayed, "God be with us. God help us."

The gunman walks to Neva Rogers' classroom door and finds it locked. He shoots out the glass panel next to the door and it explodes in a shower of tiny crystalline fragments. The gunman reaches in through the hole he has created, unlocks the door and shoves it out of the way to enter the classroom. Dressed completely in black and measuring six feet tall, he is a huge, hulking apparition.

He crosses the threshold of the classroom and looks at Ms. Rogers as she prays. He is armed with a massive 12-gauge shotgun. He raises the gun with both hands so it is pointing straight at Rogers' head.

What should God do?

What do you think God should do in a situation like this? Step back for a moment and look at this from God's perspective. God is sitting on his magnificent throne in heaven. God is all-knowing, so he is certainly watching Red Lake high school as events unfold. He hears Neva Rogers' prayers, and sees the gunman pointing the shotgun at her head. Jesus has promised that God will help, and Jesus is sitting at God's right hand.

Clearly a line has been drawn. On one side of the line is pure evil -- a sixteen-year-old who is obviously insane. On the other side is a deeply devoted, 62-year-old woman of unbending faith in God. This is a showdown between good and evil if there ever was one.

Think of all of the possibilities that an all-powerful God has at his disposal. Perhaps the easiest thing would be to strike the gunman with a freak heart attack, aneurism or stroke right then and there. Hundreds of people die of heart attacks in the United States every day, so if God struck him with a heart attack it would be completely undetectable. Non-believers would chalk it up to coincidence, but God's followers would understand what really happened.

If God has a desire to be a bit more spectacular, there are other possibilities. For example, he could cause an earthquake. He could send an angel to stand between the gunman and the teacher and deflect the bullets. A meteor could crash through the ceiling, or a bolt of lightning, and strike the gunman dead. Or God could cause a police officer to burst into Ms. Rogers' classroom just at this moment and kill the gunman on the spot. There are a million things that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God could do to answer Neva Rogers' prayers.

The gunman looks directly at Neva Rogers with his 12-gauge shotgun pointed at her skull. He pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. There is a click, but the gun does not fire. It seems like a miracle. Surely it is the hand of God.

Unfortunately, the gunman has a backup weapon and he does not even hesitate. He pulls out a pistol. He points the pistol at Ms. Rogers' head as she prays and squeezes the trigger. The pistol performs according to its specifications. He shoots Neva Rogers three times in the head and then once in the face for good measure. She dies instantly, falling into a pool of her own blood on the floor right in front of her stunned students.

According to Time magazine, what the gunman does next is remarkable. He aims his gun at one of Ms. Rogers' students in the corner and asks, "Do you believe in God?" By doing this, the gunman recreates a scene from the shootings at Columbine. At Columbine the student answered, "Yes" to this question and was shot to death. At Red Lake the student answers, "No." The gunman spares that student's life and starts shooting other students. [ref]

A total of ten people died on that day at Red Lake before the gunman took his own life.

The paradox

Key Point

In Mark 11:24 Jesus promises Neva Rogers that, "whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." In John 14:14 Jesus promises, "if you ask anything in my name, I will do it." Yet when Neva prayed for protection from the gunman, Jesus completely ignored her. Jeff Weise shot Neva Rogers in the head four times, and she died in a pool of her own blood.
A situation like this is deeply paradoxical. For any thoughtful person, the questions come in a flood. Why does an all-powerful God completely ignore the prayers and allow ten people to die? Why does God save the student who denies God's existence? Why doesn't God strike the gunman dead at the scene, or help him earlier in life so as to completely derail the situation before it ever happens? How could a loving God allow such perverse, needless and useless suffering when he clearly has the power and authority to prevent it? Why would Jesus make an unambiguous promise to answer prayers in the Bible, and then renege? How can God have answered millions of other prayers all around the globe on that day, while at the same time ignoring this huge tragedy and refusing to answer any prayers there?

It is hard for us, as human beings, to know what to think because Neva Rogers' death is senseless. We have no easy way to penetrate the mysteries of the Lord.

What we do know is that these deeply paradoxical situations happen all the time, and there must be a reason for that...

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by Marshall Brain

New York Times Coverage
discussed in a
New York Times piece
by N. D. Kristof.
For a counter-point to Mr. Kristof, please see
Chapter 26.

Recommendation by Sam Harris
Sam Harris recommends WWGHA in his book Letter to a Christian Nation.

Endorsement by Richard Dawkins
In a New York Times Letter, Richard Dawkins calls WWGHA a "splendid Web site."

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