There are hundreds of thousands of things to be moved by on the Internet. Many of them are terrible. I mean they are rank and foul and gross and irredeemable. But some of the things that can move you on the Internet are terrible things that are happening in the world. There have always been terrible things that have happened in the world, but we now have access to a visual fire hydrdant that can fling them at us at a volume that we could never process. This is the Internet’s power.
There have been many things to be distracted by of late. Racial brokenness in our country (or the refusal to acknowledge it). Shootings. The flickerings of angry political nastiness more than a year before our presidential election even happens. Reminders of Katrina a decade on. Videos about fetal tissue as samples to be collected and distributed. Those are only the things in my country. There’s loads more going on outside this country. So much destruction and sadness that flies by our fingertips so fast that our brains can’t afford to devote attention to any of it. How do you even deal with any of that stuff? I usually just ignore it, if possible.
I was caught off guard today, though. There was a story in the Guardian about the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. People are doing whatever they can to flee ISIS and terror in their own country and striking out in vessels in which they probably should not be sailing. The story centered around the images of a small boy, around two years old, who lay dead on a beach in Turkey, near a resort town. He was one of 12 dead. They couldn’t make it.
He couldn’t make it.
I have a boy of comprable size, though younger. I saw him pale and seemingly lifeless when he was born, but I saw his chest continue to rise and I saw him backpeddle from death. But this boy, who so vividly made me think of my son, he did not stir. A young boy caught up in events that he could not have any control over, no agency. He died in those waters.
That picture sliced me open. I cried at his innocence snuffed out, his precious life stolen from him. I cried for his parents who probably died too***, but who probably were crushed by the grief of knowing that their little boy was going to die even as they were losing their own lives. The horror of itall struck me so vividly. I couldn’t help but cry and want to hold my kids.
I don’t know what things you’ve seen recently that have broken your heart. I don’t know whether it was the videos of the babies or the grieving families in Charleston or the floods in Katrina. But something should be breaking in your heart. Something should be shaking you and I loose from our chosen ignorance and remind us that the world is wracked with evil, a disease that crushes perpretrator and victim.
I think that if all we feel is numb, then evil is winning in us. If we are just a blank stare into the glow of our screens and we never weep for weeping mothers and dead children, evil has won in us. I am not saying this as a person who has figured everything out. I am cold-hearted and selfish. Probably more than you. But seeing that little boy, face down on that beach and then carried off by some stranger, some law enforcement agent, it reminded me that evil is horrendous and vile and so deeply destructive. We cannot just shrug and say, “Bad things happen” without meditating on how deeply awful it is that bad things do actually happen.
The problem of evil is everyone’s problem. A view of the world without room for God looks at that photo and is just as distrubed as I am. We’re all agreed that this is heinous. But looking at it without any chance of God coming into the scene, well you are left with an inevitable randomness and a deep hope that nothing like that happens to someone you know. What’s the solution to the problem of evil in a world without God? More education? More programs? More something? We have more of all that stuff than we ever had and little boys still end up lifeless on the beach. I can’t help but see that evil without a God in the picture and feel totally hopeless. Try whatever you want. We already have. It still happens. And you’ll never stop it.
But for a religious person like me, the problem of evil is a deeply troubling question as well. I view God as omnipotent and absolutely good. So where is God’s goodness? And why do things like this happen? Couldn’t he have done better?
We can talk about theoretical universes and free will and all that. I think they’re helpful and I think it’s good to ask whether it’s possible that this version of the universe, with its interplay of human freedom and God’s activity, might actually be the best possible version of the universe even if we’ve messed it up pretty good. These are all good things to think about. But they do not resolve the question for me. There’s still the boy on the beach.
I can’t help but believe in the Christian God when I see that photo. That is someone’s little boy who has been crushed by death. I need a God who has also been crushed by death. I need a God that doesn’t just pat people on the head and say, “There, there.” I need a God who has been in agony. A God who has bodily been crushed tells me that he intends to do something for broken bodies. I need a God who has wept with loss. It is not just proximity that I need from God, but true empathy.
Jesus on the Cross tells me that God knows this boy’s death, his parents’ grief. And he hates it. I believe Jesus died on the Cross because the fury of God burns against that little boy’s death. And he let his own anger, his wrath, consume himself so that one day redemption might breathe new life into lifeless bodies.
And the insistence from the early Church that Jesus stepped out of the tomb bodily reassures me that Jesus gets what he wants: vengence on death. Jesus’ resurrection means that God doesn’t just hate death, but he intends to destroy it. When I read Paul say that it’s resurrection or bust for Christians, that we ought to pack it up and go home if it’s not true, I nod my head. Because of this boy and a million other tragedies. If Jesus doesn’t really and truly destroy death from the inside out, then I want out. I’m not interested in spiritual butterflies. I need flesh and blood redemption.
The problem of evil is a problem for everyone. Chiefly, I think it is a problem for God himself. And I think that he meets it head-on in the Cross. Now, that boy is still dead. There are many more like him. I’m not saying that there is no more weeping or that tragedies do not ache anymore.
But I do think that one day they’ll be over and so will the weeping.
So as I cried today after I saw those horrible pictures, I remembered that this world is just passing by and it will one day be mended. I was reminded that I am meant to be a tiny reflection of God’s work in the world. I’m meant to represent resurrection to some degree. And I’m supposed to long for that resurrection, too. I don’t weep without hope. I weep with longing. Expectant longing.
Don’t let evil’s quantity, its volume steer you away from its lifespan. It will be over. Be pricked, be stabbed by something. Let yourself acknowledge the horror of evil. Throw yourself at a God who has not removed himself from it, but submitted himself to its terrible devices. And take comfort by the wounded side of Jesus. Know that the King will not forever let dragons roam. He will win. He will clear the land of invaders.
One day, we won’t weep anymore. One day, the sea will pull back, unable to pull down even one more child into its depths. We won’t plead anymore for mercy. We’ll live in it.
God, I want that day to be soon. Come quickly, King Jesus.
***Update: The New York Times ran an article about the father of the young boy that died. He also lost another son and his wife. It is every bit as heart breaking as I imagined, if not more so.