(Photo: Tommy Huynh/Saddleback Church)
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California has spoken out about the Newtown, Conn., school shooting tragedy, suggesting that a lot of factors might have led up to the incident, but at the end of the day, free will is both humankind's greatest blessing and curse.
"The deeper the grief, the fewer words are needed. A lot of folks are looking for wisdom, or the right word, and are asking 'what do you say?' – but there is nothing to say. You just need to be there. You need to show up. And when people are grieving, they don't need a lecture, and they don't need an explanation. Explanations don't comfort us," Warren began in an interview on Wednesday with Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto on his "Your World" show.
"What comforts us is the presence of others, the presence of God, and the first thing we have to do is we have to learn how to release our grief and we need to do that right now," Warren added.
On Dec. 14, 20-year old Adam Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their nearby home before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newport and massacring 26 people, including 20 children. Lanza, who is reported to have been struggling with a number of mental illnesses, took his own life before police arrived on the scene.
The shooting has shaken the entire country, with the grieving families in Newtown receiving an outpouring of support from people around the nation. President Barack Obama wiped away tears when he made his first statement about the shooting, and said that as a country, America has "been through this too many times."
But many are also questioning what role faith and God play at a time like this, and are looking toward pastors and religious leaders for answers. Warren says that God's will is in heaven, but it is rarely done on Earth because humans are free to make their own choices.
"Our greatest blessing is our greatest curse," the Saddleback Church leader said on Fox. "God could have made us puppets, where none of us did anything wrong, we prayed all of the time, we always did what's right. But God wanted us to choose to love Him, and in giving us this choice, I often make bad choices, and so do other people, in fact everyone does – the Bible calls it sin. Because of that, the world is broken."
Warren said that grief is good because "it's a transition that helps us move through the losses of life," and that "if you don't grieve, if you just stuff it down, then what happens is it comes out sideways somewhere later on in life."
The author of The Purpose Driven Life, who has recently been promoting the 10-year anniversary of his bestselling book which reached millions around the world, identified multiple issues behind these types of shootings.
"There is the psychological issue of the mentally ill – and we are not taking care of the mentally ill like we ought to, and we are not supporting the families of the mentally ill. There's the public safety issue – people are using AK-47 assault rifles to assault people, and there needs to be something done about that."
The pastor continued: "There is also this culture of violence. Kids are being raised, by the time they are 20, they have shot 20-30,000 people in video games, and that's entertainment. And then there's the spiritual issue. When people's lives are empty, when they don't know the meaning and purpose of life, when they don't know the difference between right and wrong, these kind of things happen."
Warren said that it is dangerous for people to watch or allow themselves to be negatively affected by bad influences, and that there is no denying that some things that are considered "entertainment" are not appropriate for children. The pastor insisted, however, that it would be inaccurate to focus on one factor or another that might have led to the shooting and not look at the bigger picture.
"The issue is – do we run away from God, or do we run toward Him for comfort? Most people as you can see, the churches in Newtown were filled on Sunday. Most people run to God in comfort. There are some things we are not going to understand until we get into heaven," Warren continued.
The Saddleback church pastor revealed that he has been at the deathbed of thousands of people as a pastor, where he sees that at the end, relationships are what matter most to people. "I have never had one person say 'bring me my trophies one more time, I want to look at them.' No. They always say 'bring me the people that I love.' Eventually they realize that that's what matters most. I just hope that we can learn that sooner."