Why Did God Permit the Charleston Murders?

by Andrew Forrest
Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

We don’t know. “We don’t know” is the honest answer to any question about why God permitted Dylan Roof to murder the Charleston Nine. No one knows. But though we will never have a definitive answer this side of the grave, a strange parable Jesus tells does offer an interesting perspective on the perennial “Why?” we ask whenever innocent people suffer.

Today’s Eat This Book Portion

The?Eat This Book campaign?at my church provides folks a scripture reading schedule to follow. Right now, we are reading through the Gospel of Matthew (about a half chapter a day), and today’s reading comes from Matthew 13, one of my favorite passages in scripture. Reading the strange parable of the wheat and the weeds this morning has got me thinking about last week’s murders in Charleston.

The Wheat and the Weeds


Surrounded by a crowd by the shore of the?Sea of Galilee one day, Jesus told the following parable:

??The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;?but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from???He answered, An enemy has done this. The slaves said to him, Then do you want us to go and gather them???But he replied, No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn….??

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.?He answered, The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,?and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,?and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears?listen!'”

(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Parables are meant to unsettle, to make you think. So go read this strange parable again, slowly. (In other words, don’t scan the way you normally do on the Internet.)

Some Quick Observations

  • Jesus points out that evil and good are so tightly mixed together in this world that no man or woman can perfectly separate one from another. I know this is true, because I know it is true in me.
  • Jesus reminds us that, though evil seems to be growing stronger, so is good. This is an evil world, but evil is not stronger than good.
  • Jesus says that, this side of Judgement Day, it is impossible to root up all the evil in the world without also destroying the good. For reasons only known to God, if there is to be good in the universe, there must also be the freedom for evil.
  • Jesus makes it very clear that evil, though it seems strong today, will one day be utterly destroyed by God.
Emmanuel AME Zion Church member Kevin Polite helps members into the church for the service on 6/21/15 [David Goldman/Getty Images].

Emmanuel AME Zion Church member Kevin Polite helps members into the church for the service on 6/21/15 [David Goldman/Getty Images].

Let Me Know What You Think

I?find this parable strangely comforting. What about you? What do you think this parable is about, and how might it relate to the evil that was done in Charleston last week?



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Rodney June 22, 2015 - 10:06 am

Why wouldn’t God just make everyone good? I have no idea. But the very presence of evil validates the existence of good and makes it’s condition sweeter. On a relative basis if there were no dark (in the world as we are capable of seeing it), there could never be light. Without “no”, there could never be “yes”. Perhaps that is why the condition of Heaven is so hard hard for us to contemplate – eternal salvation, eternal life, eternal light, eternal “yes”? Those conditions are not of this world and never have been, even when Jesus walked the earth.

I do not pretend to understand it, but it seems a key component of God’s grace is the condition of free will. Given an eternal fork in the road, the left road is darkness and the right road is light. We have been shown which road is which, but also given the free will to choose our path. Jesus to my knowledge has never forced anyone to glorify him.

Andrew Forrest June 22, 2015 - 4:38 pm

Yes, I think Christian theology has always stated that somehow free will is essential to good. (In the parable–and this is really strange–that freedom even extends to the devil. Interesting.)

Good point about Jesus never forcing anyone to glorify him. Maybe that’s true even at Judgement Day. Maybe God doesn’t force anyone to worship. Maybe hell is the place where everyone who refuses to worship goes.

As I never get tired of recommending, “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis is a must-read on this topic.

Rodney June 22, 2015 - 10:34 am

Also…I love analogies, metaphors, and parables, so bear with me. But to take Jesus’s parable a step further, consider how pH and other measures influence what grows in soil. I found this quick explanation on http://www.homestead.org :

“Gardeners and farmers constantly battle with the weeds, but weeds can have a useful purpose. Weeds can be used as a soil indicator. Simply by observing the most prevalent weeds that are growing in a specific area, they can indicate if the soil is acidic or alkaline, whether the soil is a healthy, balanced soil, or if it?s depleted.”

I think about how this relates to the growth and development of the human soul. How many perfectly good seeds get planted in poor soil and do not flourish? What happens to the soul of an innocent child born into an immoral household or neighborhood? How likely are we to glorify God if we allow our daily lives to be surrounded by the weeds of immorality?

My son was baptized this weekend. I am glad he has been planted in the soil of God’s Kingdom and watered by the Holy Spirit.

Andrew Forrest June 22, 2015 - 4:40 pm


And great analogy. The idea that the pH of weeds can tell us useful things about the soil strikes me as transferable in the moral realm. Good stuff.

Casey June 22, 2015 - 10:43 am

This is a gutsy post my friend – a subject that many steer away from, or answer with the usual responses. I agree with you – this parable is very assuring in that it doesn’t shy away from identifying and acknowledging that there is evil in the world; and that we are called to follow the gospel, even as evil dwells among us. It is easier to think about when evil lays low, or lurks in the shadows. When evil explodes into the world as it did in Charleston, much tougher to take. However – it’s a daily battle that is waging – and we are on the winning side. Thanks Andrew.

Andrew Forrest June 22, 2015 - 4:41 pm

Yeah, I think you bring up a good point. Evil is with us daily, it’s just that sometimes it’s more obvious. We need to be fighting it all the time. I guess that’s called obedience.

Hallie June 23, 2015 - 1:36 pm

Thank you for this post. I feel like the “Why?s” are hard to take sometimes as a Christian and something that we are asked to answer to anytime something tragic happens. Why did God do this or that or allow this or allow that? If there was a God then this or that wouldn’t have happened. As a Christian this is always tough to answer in a way that actually connects. I even find myself doing it often even when I know the answer or hope to know it.

This is definitely very comforting to me. And a reminder that evil like this is not new, the world is not continuously getting worse…there has always been evil. The good is where we find God and why one day evil will lose out completely.

keith June 24, 2015 - 7:45 am


It is amazing your Church is reading this particular story through “Eat This Book”. I heard it stated, and I assume it is true, that the Bible Study group in SC were studying Mark 4 16-20 when Roof had joined them (Parable of the Sower and Soils). To me the Word of God through this passage was choked out by the weeds in Dylan Roof’s life.



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