- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

Remember the Oct. 2, 2006, Amish school shootings? The world was amazed by the Amish response of near-instant forgiveness after a madman shot 10 girls execution-style. One of the five who died took at least two dozen bullet wounds all over her body.

The killer conveniently committed suicide before police could get to him. Of the five girls who survived the horror, four eventually returned to school, but a fifth, who sustained serious brain damage, no longer walks or talks.

I recently heard from a pastor who is counseling their families.

“It was very interesting and even distressing to see the state they are in now after time has passed,” he said. “It was easier for them to forgive in the moment than it has been over time.”

What’s happening now? I asked.

“The predictable spiritual doubts, wrestling with bitterness over the loss of and injury to such innocent children, the unanswered questions on why,” the pastor responded.

“This is not over for them,” he added. “It will obviously go on as a process for a very long time, if it is ever resolved. … Still, they feel God worked through it in some way. They’re happy about how many people heard the Christian message of forgiveness, even if they are struggling with it themselves.”

Yes, the Amish community forgave the shooter and reached out to his surviving wife and children. But I wonder whether the two books and one film on the tragedy were rolled out a bit too fast. Was the public relations message on the families’ quick ability to bury the girls, quench their sorrows and forgive the murderer too packaged?

The reality is messier.

University of North Carolina professor who has created a cottage industry of books challenging Christianity, just released “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question - Why We Suffer.”

He cites God’s brushoff to Job when the Almighty tells the unfortunate Old Testament character that He’s not going to explain Job’s horrendous afflictions.

“This response of God from the whirlwind seems to get God off the hook for innocent suffering - he can do whatever he pleases, since he is the Almighty and not accountable to anyone,” Mr. Ehrman writes. “Doesn’t this view mean that God can maim, torment and murder at will and not be held accountable? As human beings, we’re not allowed to get away with that. Can God?”

His point is not that God did the abuse but that He allowed it. I’ve written before about the best-seller status of “The Shack,” a book about how a stunned father comes to grips with the slaying of his daughter, Missy, 6. A new book, “Finding God in the Shack,” by Randal Rauser, a Canadian college professor (and the father of a 6-year-old girl) explains why one typical explanation for evil - that God arranged it so a greater good will result - holds no water.

“There is something deeply unsatisfying about explaining such horrendous evil as part of God’s ‘magnificent tapestry,’ ” he writes, because it accepts the “unforgivable conclusion that the torture, rape and murder of little girls can be justified by God’s cosmic purposes.”

There is something different in the air these days, and the old answers are not holding. Our culture is in ferment if even the Amish are asking the questions.

• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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