It's ironic that the killings of the young Amish children were in the village of Paradise, Pennsylvania. It was the third school violence incident in the United States involving guns in one week. This time it was in the most unlikely of places, in an Amish community, where non-violence and pacifism are practiced and held as high vlaues.
Where was God in the midst of the killing of the Amish school children? It's a good question and one that we should ask and try to answer. When we start to dig a little deeper, looking at the lives of some of those involved, we start to see Him all over the place. Understanding where God was begins with the knowledge that faith goes deeper than tragedy and life goes deeper than death.
THE AMISH COMMUNITY DOESN'T SEE GOD AS REMOVED FROM THE SITUATION. In fact their lifestyle and belief structure predicts that such horrible things will happen. The Intelligencer Journal, a Lancaster County newspaper, quotes Amish researcher Donald Kimball, "The Amish are a resilient, peace-loving people of faith who won't be changed by Monday's spasm of violence, which they likely will view as a one-time incident. 'I think the community will understand it as an aberration, a crime committed by a man with a severe psychiatric disorder... I think they have a sense of resignation in accepting these kinds of things as somehow a part of God's larger plan.'" David Weaver-Zercher, of Messiah College said in the same article that the Amish have a view of the world as "an evil place, and one's only security is with God."
THE ELDERS IN THE AMISH COMMUNITY ARE TALKING FORGIVENESS. Rev. Robert Schenck told CNN he was standing with the grandfather of one of the slain girls, while the grandfather was teaching the young boys that they were not to hate. He is quoted as saying, "We must not think evil of this man."
Amish woodworker, Sam Stoltzfus told an Associated Press reporter that "the families would be sustained by their faith." He said, "We think it was God's plan, and we're going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going. A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter."
The same article that quotes Stoltzfus, quotes Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community who said people were trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. He said, "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts." Wow! Reaching out to the family of the man that killed your children. Supernatural power and love exists in the hearts of the effected Amish families. God is spilling out all over that situation.
THE KILLER WAS HAVING AN AWFUL TIME IN HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. Charles Carl Roberts IV, was having a hard time finding God in just about anything. He was experiencing a number of troubling thoughts that he recorded in suicide notes he left for his family. He was particularly troubled by the death of his daughter, Elise, born prematurely in 1997 and living for only 20 minutes. In his note Robarts said Elise's death, "changed my life forever. I haven't been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate towards myself, hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness it seems like every time we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger." Whew, that's some tough stuff, really rough emotions. But not a denial of God or His existence, just an overall anger.
One of the strangest places that God showed up in the incident was that Marie Roberts, the killer's wife was leading a prayer meeting for the community's schoolchildren at the time that he had stormed into the one-room classroom. Marie Roberts has been asking for prayer all along in this tragedy. CNN reported on Wednesday night, October 4th in an interview with two of the midwives that delivered two of the Amish girls that died, that Marie Roberts had asked to meet with the families of the slain children after the funeral and the Amish bishop agreed.
Even emergency response workers were saying "God was with us while we were taking care of those kids."
SPONTANEOUS PRAYER MEETINGS ERUPTED ACROSS LANCASTER COUNTY. Lancaster Online reported on one of the many meetings. “We come here tonight as a grieving community,” Sam Smucker, pastor of The Worship Center, said. “We’ve come here to pray and proclaim the lordship of Christ and to put our arms around each other and the community and ask God to put his arms around us. God hears our prayers.”
Contemporary Christian artist Michael W. Smith led the group in worship, playing the piano and singing hymns like “It Is Well With My Soul,” as well as praise songs like “Above All.”
Smith, who originally had been scheduled to perform at a rally for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in Lancaster Tuesday night, said, “It’s not an accident that I’m here (at The Worship Center’s prayer vigil). I’m a big believer in the providence of God.”
Smith told those attending the vigil that the shooting “could be your grandest opportunity to turn tragedy into good, to grieve with those who grieve. What happened (Monday) will see what you’re made of.” As long as it takes to heal, “we have to stand in the gap.”
Of all the places in the world, Smith said, this is the last place one would think anything like this would happen. “But God is in control. ... Was this God’s will? Absolutely not. But he will use it for good,” Smith said. “Satan has won the battle — temporarily. God has overcome the evil one. Let’s get on with building the kingdom. Let’s get on with God’s agenda.”
Smith closed his portion of the service by dedicating his new song, “See You on the Other Side” to the “five precious girls” who died in the shooting, Naomi Rose Ebersol, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, Marian Fisher, Mary Liz Miller and Lina Miller.
THE POWER OF GOD WAS EVIDENT IN SO MANY PLACES IN THE MIDST OF SUCH A HORRIBLE TRAGEDY. Forgiveness is being extended to Roberts family by the Amish. God has been evident throughout this whole situation. Enos Miller, the grandfather of the two Miller sisters, was with both of the girls when they died. He was out walking near the schoolhouse before dawn Wednesday _ he said he couldn't sleep _ when he was asked by a reporter for WGAL-TV whether he had forgiven the gunman.
"In my heart, yes," he said, explaining it was "through God's help."