(Photo: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
It's a question many ask after a tragedy like last Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.: If God is who He says He is, why did He let this happen?
Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., says it's an important question but notes that many have created God in their own image.
"Which God is he talking about?" Stanley said on "the Bert Show" Monday in response to a written post. The post asked, "The 'God' you guys keep talking about, if 'He' was so awesome and wonderful why did 'He' let this happen? ... Don't you think the parents of those children that were murdered prayed for their safety last night?"
Stanley, an influential preacher and lauded communicator, said he believes the person behind that post is talking about "the God we put in our back pocket, that we carry around in case of emergencies," the "come to my rescue God," or the "God that doesn't allow bad things to happen to good people."
"I don't believe that God exists," said the megachurch pastor.
What people should ask, he said, is "Who is God, really?"
Questioning God or one's faith after a tragedy is more of a modern American phenomenon than anything else, Stanley believes. In other parts of the world, Christians who suffer do not question their faith or ask where God is. Even during slavery in the United States centuries ago, slaves held on to their faith even more.
"It wasn't an issue ... there was no contradiction," Stanley pointed out.
Suffering has been a part of Christianity since its beginning. When Jesus was born, King Herod had all children 2 years old and younger murdered.
"The people who want to differentiate God from pain and evil, they're not talking about the Christian God because from the Old Testament to the New Testament, God is in the midst of pain, leverages pain and, here's the key, redeems pain for good because God is a redeemer.
"That's the essence of the Gospel. The murder of the innocent son of God resulted in the salvation of the world. That's redemption. It's taking evil and leveraging it for something that's good."
Twenty-seven people were murdered last week by 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza. Most of the victims were first graders.
Stanley said today is a day of mourning and believes it is still too early to discuss the good that would come out of a tragedy.
He also disagreed with some Christians who believe the removal of God from the public square is what caused the tragedy. But he did make the point that the American culture "has lost the right to say 'where was God?'"
"Because essentially, we've shoved God out of culture and then when God doesn't show up in culture, we're like 'where were you?'" he noted. "'Well, I was over on the curb, you told me I couldn't go to school, I can't be in government, ... you told me you don't really want me around.'"
But, he stressed, that's not the reason this happened.
Providing some words of wisdom on prayer, Stanley encouraged people to pray the way Jesus taught – to first think about who they're talking to.
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Your name," he explained. "When we think about ... the God who created the universe, suddenly we're centered. Prayer isn't about changing the mind of God. That's the American God."
The Georgia pastor also reminded the public about the account of Lazarus as told in the New Testament book of John. Jesus waited three days after Lazarus' death to show up. Like many are asking now, sisters Mary and Martha asked Jesus where he was and that if he had come sooner, their brother would not have died.
"Jesus created on purpose that scenario," said Stanley. When Jesus walked up to the tomb of Lazarus, he paused and wept, though he was about to raise him from the dead.
"Today, I believe our Savior weeps with us, knowing that he has in his hands and in his heart the power of resurrection even though he knew the end would be good, he paused to experience the pain of the people he loved. And today, I believe the God of the Bible weeps and mourns with us.
"This is not a reflection of a lack of activity. This is our misunderstanding of the God who loves us."