Weekly Column (Friday, April 19, 2013)
Violence and grief in the Boston area have rightly dominated our news media for the past week. The latest terrorist bloodshed is not at all senseless. It's the work of calculated malice. Innocent people, including children, have paid the price for other people's hatred. Our most important task right now is to pray for the victims and their families. God exists, and God can heal even the worst suffering, despite every human attempt to ignore him and every terrible sin that seems to "disprove" his presence. And yet it's fair to ask: How can a good God allow this kind of evil to happen?
The answer is both simple and hard. There's nothing soft-focus or saccharine about real Christianity. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the brave; not the complacent, and not cowards. The world and its beauty give glory to God; but we live in it with divided hearts, and so the world is also a field of conflict. God's son died on a cross and rose from the dead to deliver us from our sins. He didn't take away our freedom to choose evil. Until this world ends, some people will do vile and inhuman things to others.
The irony of human dignity is that it requires our freedom. It depends on our free will. We own our actions. And free persons can freely choose to do wicked things. Spend an hour browsing through Scripture: It's the story of a struggle between good and evil that cuts bloodily through every generation in history. And the story is made bearable, and given meaning, only by the fidelity of God - the constancy of his justice, his mercy, his solace, his love.
Within hours of the Boston bombings, public officials were telling the nation that terrorists would not be allowed to destroy "our way of life." It's the duty of leaders - an important duty - to reassure and strengthen their people in times of tragedy. Our country has a vast reservoir of goodness built up by generations of good people. America's best ideals are well worth fighting for. But we also need to remember that our way of life is as mortal as every other great power; and sooner or later, America will be a footnote in history. Only God is forever.
In the coming weeks, in the wake of the Boston tragedy, we'd do well to ponder what "our way of life" is beginning to mean. No one deserved to die in Boston. Terrorism isn't washed clean by claims of psychological instability or U.S.policy sins abroad. And no one should be eager to see in the carnage of innocent spectators God's judgment on a morally confused culture here at home.
And yet, something is wrong with our way of life, and millions of people can feel it; something selfish, cynical, empty and mean. Something that acts like a magnet to the worst impulses of the human heart. We're no longer the nation of our founders, or even of our parents. Some of their greatness has been lost.
The character of our way of life depends on the character of my way life, multiplied by the tens of millions. We shouldn't waste time being shocked or baffled by the evil in the world. It has familiar roots. It begins in the little crevices of each human heart - especially our own.
In the days ahead we need to pray for the dead and wounded in Boston, and their families. And then, with the help of God, we need to begin to change ourselves. That kind of conversion might seem like a small thing, an easy thing - until we try it. Then we understand why history turns on the witness of individual lives.