By the time you read this column, a full week will have passed since the massacre of over 75 people in Norway at the hand of a single, profoundly-disturbed man.
At the time of this writing very little is known of his motive and background. What is clear is that evil has yet again shown itself resident within the life of a human being. Evil: capable of a monstrous expression and, in the aftermath, leaving a monstrous question to be faced.
We have wrestled with this question since the first homicide, recorded in Scripture in the early pages of the Book of Genesis. Chapter 4 recounts the murder of well-loved Abel by his brother Cain, in a moment of deranged jealousy.
To gain some perspective on this fratricidal madness, and given their prominence within the ancient world’s ‘first family’, we might think of Prince Harry killing Prince William in a fit of rage after the royal wedding.
Cain infamously asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” when God demands an explanation of Abel’s absence. Cain refuses to accept the moral responsibility for his crime.
Likewise, the Norwegian mass-murderer has 1,500 self-justifying pages of his own manifesto.
These murders were not the product of insanity.
No, this is evil, immense, and in action. And the momentous question should arise in our minds almost immediately:
“Where was God in all this? How could this have been allowed to happen? Why didn’t God stop it, if he’s so loving and good?”
The persistent suffering and evil we see in the world has caused many, many people to jettison altogether the very acceptance of God’s existence.
Today, in the face of African famine and last week’s slaughter in Norway — to name just two current examples of countless others — the souls of the dead can be heard with as much force as Abel’s when God replied to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries to me out of the ground!”
So many have died. And will die, seemingly mowed down by the forces of darkness.
Is God in this at all?
In a heartbeat we can reply, we can make a life-altering shift from an active reliance upon personal faith to a passive acceptance of lifeless fate.
For there are no comfortable words on offer here. No quick relief. No easy answer.
Yet there is one fact, which has allowed me to remain a Christian in the face of humanity’s malice and my desperate search to find some sense to it. It is this: I believe God accepts final responsibility for evil.
“Somebody’s got to pay for this!” we cry.
“I agree,” says God, “and I will do it. I will allow you to murder your Maker, to pay for it. All of it.”
And so Jesus Christ — God, in human flesh — was crucified, dead and buried, for the sins of the whole world. This was God ultimately accepting responsibility for the wickedness in the world. The death and (vindicating) resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greater answer to the immense question of evil.
I realize not all of you are Bible believers, holding Scripture’s point of view. The world appears dangerous, and our lives very, very fragile in the face of today’s headline.
Yet the following, written by a prophet “for our instruction” over 2,600 years ago in a time of overwhelming national suffering, speaks loud and clear to me this morning:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17).
Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Christianity proclaims this to be on-going: Jesus transforms everything, every day.
Perhaps what we call ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’ — as well as ‘mercy’ and ‘love’ — aren’t yet completely understood by us.
Perhaps, in the Cross of Christ, we have the beginnings of a response to the momentous question of evil.
If so, there is limitless, renewing comfort offered to us, here and now.
For Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again.
Guy Bellerby is Rector of Christ’s Church (Oceanside).