July 19th, 2012
07:55 AM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – It was "God's plan" that brought together George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in a fatal confrontation in February, Zimmerman told Fox News host Sean Hannity Wednesday in his first television interview.
Zimmerman, 28, has been charged with second-degree murder for shooting Martin in what he says was self-defense. Martin was unarmed when he was killed while walking back to his father's girlfriend's house in a gated residential area of Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty and has been free on $1 million bail since early July.
Zimmerman, who said he routinely carried a gun except when he was at work, told Hannity he didn't regret deciding to follow Martin that night, after deciding the teen was acting suspiciously, and he didn't regret having a gun.
"Do you feel you wouldn't be here for this interview if you didn't have that gun?" Hannity asked.
"No, sir," Zimmerman responded.
"You feel you would not be here?" Hannity pressed.
"I feel it was all God's plan and for me to second guess it or judge it..." Zimmerman said, pursing his lips and shaking his head.
The 17-year-old victim's father didn't agree with Zimmerman's claim.
"We must worship a different God because there is no way that my God would have wanted George Zimmerman to kill my teenage son," Tracy Martin said in a statement after Zimmerman's interview was broadcast.
There's an old joke about a Christian who falls down a flight of stairs and then says, "Thank God that's over." For some Christians, there is a belief that God is in control of everything in their lives, good and bad, from finding a parking space close to the grocery store to the death of a loved one.
When things go horribly awry, it's not uncommon for people to look to God as the one who drew up the plan, says David M. Carr, professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary.
“What's particularly striking to me in this instance,” Carr told CNN, was that “George Zimmerman is attributing something he did to God’s plan.”
“It's one thing to attribute a natural disaster to God’s plan to try and make sense of the world,” he said. “It’s another thing to justify something you did as God’s plan. That’s taking it to another level.”
“That lets you off the hook, but I think it can look to other people as a pretty transparent attempt at self-justification,” Carr added.
Carr is an expert on the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament.
“One thing that strikes me about many of the narratives in the Old Testament is there are so many places where characters think they know what God is up to, but we know because of the narrator in the story, they’re wrong.”
“So the Bible speaks to the human misperception of what God is doing.”
Zimmerman and his family were longtime members at the All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, Virginia.
"George grew up in Manassas and was active in the church during his youth as an altar server and evening receptionist in the office," Pastor Bob Cilinski of All Saints told CNN in March. "The Zimmerman family were known and respected in the community for their dedication and service."
Despite his Catholic upbringing, some say that that on this point of theology, Zimmerman may be out of step with Catholic teaching.
“God didn’t make us robots, he didn’t make us puppets,” said Father Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
“A key part of God’s plan is giving us freedom to make decisions. Sometimes those decisions are good and sometimes those decisions are bad," Reese said, explaining the Catholic teaching on the concept of free will.
"Obviously, not everything we do is part of God’s plan. Because sometimes we sin and that certainly is not part of God’s plan. It’s contrary to what God wants."
Reese said Zimmerman's sentiment is not an uncommon one among Christians. But the idea of a God who controls everything down to the last detail strikes Reese as an idea closer to Greek mythology than the God described in the Bible.
"It’s based on this idea of an absolute powerful God who always gets what he wants. When we read the Scriptures, we find out God doesn’t always get what he wants. He’s disappointed and upset when things go wrong,” he said.
“I think there’s an important insight that these people have, that is when things do go bad, when they go contrary to God’s plan, he can still make good things happen as a result," Reese said.
“When these terrible things happen, God can inspire people to respond to them with courage and compassion so that something positive can come out of something very negative," he added. "But it wasn’t part of God’s plan that this guy got killed. We can’t excuse what we do by saying that’s God’s plan.”
Both Carr and Reese were careful to say they were not commenting on the legal aspects of the case and noted that Zimmerman's guilt or innocence should be left up to the courts.
One thing Reese said Zimmerman did get right in the interview was apologizing and praying for the Martin family.
"I'm sorry they had to bury their child," Zimmerman told Hannity. "I pray for them daily."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.