If you’re American, you’ll surely remember the killing of the black teenager Trayvon Martin Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida three years ago, with Zimmerman claiming that, as part of a neighborhood patrol, he was justified in shooting Martin because he was defending himself against a suspected trespasser. The murky details of the case, combined with the fact that Martin was black and Zimmerman white, ignited a racial conflict that has continued, promoted by similar cases, over the past three years.
Leaving aside the question of guilt or innocence, I want to point out that Zimmerman is now, according to PuffHo, claiming that his killing of Martin was “God’s will”. This brings the issue of theodicy—the apologetics of evil in a God-run universe—right down to earth:
In a video [JAC: below] released on Monday by the law firm Ayo and Iken, which represents Zimmerman, the 31-year-old said he has a clear conscience and does not believe things could have turned out differently that day in Sanford, Florida.
“I believe God has his plans, and for me to second-guess them would be hypocritical, almost blasphemous,” he said in the video.
Well, you know, you could make a case for that, for God is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient and benevolent. So He not only knew that Martin was going to die, but could have prevented it. But He didn’t? Why?
That’s the question that has plagued theologians for centuries, and there is no satisfactory answer. The only conclusion is that it was part of God’s plan for Martin to die, even if you think that that death was necessary to preserve “free will” in our species.
But of course theologians can’t tolerate that, so they do their usual dance of confused apologetics:
Though steeped in religious rhetoric, Zimmerman’s analysis does not sit well with many Christians who reject the notion that God wanted Martin to die.
“It’s a theology that’s different than mine,” Rev. John Vaughn, the executive vice president of Auburn Theological Seminary, told The Huffington Post over the phone. “My theology is one of much more that’s rooted in God’s love and that we have free choice and will.”
Pastor Victor Montalvo, who leads a congregation in Sanford just blocks away from where the teenager was shot, told HuffPost he believes Zimmerman should assume responsibility for his actions and repent.
“The idea that God willed for him to shoot Trayvon is absolutely ludicrous,” Montalvo said. “It’s not God’s fault that Trayvon is dead.”
Of course it is? God could have stopped it—if He existed! But here we see the waffling of theologians who out of one side of their mouth suggest that it might have been God’s plan, because some good came out of it, but out of the other assert that it couldn’t have been God’s plan. Those are the noises Monsalvo made:
Montalvo said the shooting brought to the forefront “seething” racial tensions that have existed in Sanford for generations. But, he added, it also has provided Christians with an opportunity to “stand in humility” and work to restore their communities. And this is where Zimmerman’s statement on Monday breaks down for the pastor.
“God can use even the worst situations,” he said. “But when you talk about the will of God, you talk about the desire of God,” and it’s not right to say that God would want this death.
“That God somehow wanted Trayvon to be shot and killed … We don’t see that in Jesus,” Montalvo said.
The fact that Montalvo “doesn’t see that in Jesus” is a meaningless statement. If he believes in an all-powerful and all-loving God, then somehow God did want Martin to be killed, even if it was a foreseeable byproduct of some greater good (like the nonexistent “free will” accepted by both believers and the average person, or even to give Christians a chance to be “humble”). If God allows murders like Martin’s to preserve “free will,” then of course God knew that Martin would die in that cause. But couldn’t He intervene from time to time to stop murders but still allow tax cheating and ATM thefts? Nobody would be the wiser.
Zimmerman is a nasty and odious piece of work, but he’s only carrying the Christianity of his region to its logical conclusion. He’s deposited a steaming mess in the laps of the clergy, and they don’t know what to do with it.