In the wake of the Texas mass shooting, RawStory posted an article with the subtle, and not-at-all mocking title, “Conservative writer: God was ‘answering prayers’ of Texas victims by letting them get shot.” Yes, “Step right up folks! And witness another ridiculous Christian saying something ridiculous!”
Of course, the original column was pretty ridiculous. It was naive and insensitive. Far be it from me not to point out when “my people” do or say something stupid or evil. But just as irritating are liberals who would rather make fun of conservative Christians than try to understand them.
The original article, written by the Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene, makes a certain kind of sense within the context of the history of the Christian faith, and particularly St. Augustine’s influence on the thinking of Martin Luther. For Augustine, Divine Providence could leverage human evil to achieve a larger good, even the good of the souls of the individuals who might find themselves dying young. With the death of his own beloved son, Adeodatus (which means “gift of God”), Augustine pondered that perhaps that Adeotatus would have fallen into mortal sin later in life. Thus by allowing him to die now, God was sparing him for all eternity. Of course, there is a particular (and highly contextual) subtlety to Augustine’s thinking that the author fails to understand or convey, namely that God is not moving pieces on a chessboard but responding to the chess pieces’ own independent and often evil moves.
HOWEVER, when it comes to martyrdom, which is what the author is talking about, Augustine writes, “It is not the punishment, but the cause, that makes the martyr.” Christians do pray (in general) to have the faith of the martyrs. “Martyr” means “one who bears witness,” namely one who bears witness to the power of Christ by dying like him. A major criterion for martyrdom is that the death can be avoided by denial, or that the punishment is in some way a direct consequence of one’s faith. You have to do something that gets you killed. There is little evidence for that in the case of the people of Texas. Their death was not the death of martyrs. It was just sad. Tragic. And evil.
Christians have a weird view of life and death that way. Suffering torture and death for the sake of Christ is a virtue. In a way, it is a gift. This is almost certainly because we worship a criminal. We worship a man who was tortured and executed by an oppressive and totalitarian regime because the message he preached of radical equality, of an economic upheaval in which the rich could only save themselves by selling all they had and giving it to the poor, was just too dangerous. Such a person, as history often shows, cannot be allowed to live.
This is something the author of the Raw Story article seems not to get. He presents the Lutheran pastor as just another nutty Christian trying to make nutty sense of a world too big and complicated for his puny little faith to allow him to understand. Actually, if that is what the Raw Story article is hinting at, then it has a point. But it is also an oversimplification. The tragedy of Fiene’s reasoning is not that he is using his faith to try to make sense out of something evil. We all do that, no matter what we might make our “ultimate concern.” What is sad about what Fiene writes is that he does not seem to understand the core concern of the faith he professes. Not freedom, not economic prosperity, not individual rights, but justice. Radical social justice. That is the faith of the martyrs. One person says we must care for the least of these, and the other replies with a boot to the head, pepper spray, or a gun.