The World’s Evil Resides Within Us. With God’s Help We Can Overcome It
There is nothing quite so much like inhumanity to remind us that we are human. Tell yourself all you like that you are a piece of electric meat, a random causation of evolutionary theory, and all sense of reality is an accident of perception, of a mental machine grown too strong for its own good, with shocks and shatterings that make it think it is something more than a hard-wiring for the survival of a species. Tell yourself you are purely tangible, a thing that can decompose to the last atom, that can rot in the broiling sun, no more than an intelligent insect doomed to be undone and laid out as bare as your bones.
And yet when confronted, in some sudden moment, with a cry that rises in the throat, because something is wrong, profoundly and to the core wrong, and we find ourselves overwrought with revulsion at it. Some things are too acute to be worded, and yet they rebel within us, and make us lash out, for there is too much of the sacred scouring us. Some of the greatest works of art contain the ability to make us react in such a way, to clench our fists and scream or stare blankly at the horror unfolding, while our hearts throb from the evil that cannot be justified or minimized. It is wrong in a way no animal or element of nature is capable of. It is our knowledge of good and evil planted and sprouted tall, our teeth marks on the seductive fruit. And it has drawn much blood. And we can do nothing but press our clenched fist to our mouth to shudder a scream, knuckles white, lips white.
I think of great moments in film, moments when no words need be said to describe this inner twisting that overcomes us, for we know that such actions fall short of a reality that is realer than real. It is deeper than our DNA. And it can only be met with the silence of the soul.
In A Man for All Seasons, we see Thomas More listen to the rankings of a crazed and corrupt king in silence. In Roots, we see Kunte Kinte view the callousness of the privileged bidding for him at the auction block in silence. In The Hunger Games, we see Katniss Everdeen observe the children from the Capital play with their toy swords, as their parents await the life-and-death gladiatorial games of others, in silence. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, after witnessing so much insanity and death, holds the One Ring of power in his outstretched hand in silence. In Waterloo, we see the Duke of Wellington facing the mounting casualties of his men in silence.
This is not the silence of apathy. It is the silence born or breaking up inside, when there is nothing left to be said but that something is wrong, and we are the cause of it. At the end of the day, we know that the evil around us is as much a tendency within ourselves. We all lust after it, and there but for grace we would go. It makes us want to cry out, but often enough, silence is the only proper response to it. Silence and the tears that are not evil, that raise our essences beyond the bones and the blood to the Source from which we have come. For we all come from God, and to God we will return, like a drop of rain that flows into the ocean. If we must be rung out by this life, then so be it. God will win out in the end, and alone can drain blood from a stone, water from a rock, and honey from bitter combs of the heart. Then let us be transformed, and have done with it, unto the last drop of wine and head of wheat, unto the last seed that must break open and die!
We are rare and wondrous, we humans, a creation unlike any other. The very fact that we have been created implies some separation from God to live and learn in a way which gives us freedom to charter our destiny. And we think ourselves so bold and brilliant. And it goes to our heads with amazing rapidity. And before we can sort out the blindness of our own arrogance, or penetrate our own cynicism, we are off making slaves of one another, sport of one another, and leaving the weaker to die. We rut in the fields and turn our fellow man into prey for our grasping talons. We poison the air, pollute the water, strip the earth, and play with fire. We fill ourselves with the notion that all is “I”, and as such we lose ourselves and all else. And all is death, more truly so than a biological secession of functions. It is a death of spirit which looms large, a death that breaths, that moves, that laces itself through the air.
Evil is the most profound of sicknesses. It can corrupt to the core, and crumble us all around, like rotted fruit, like poisoned apples, sunken eyes. But it takes a saint to realize that evil itself is the manifestation of a soul sunken into sickness, deserving of pity. Yes, deserving of mercy. The film Quo Vadis demonstrates St. Peter realizing this when he hears Nero called a monster, responding that rather he is a man “sick in spirit”.
Pope John Paul II recognized this through his life and poetry. He was a man who went through so very much under both the Nazis and the Communists and still managed to forgive, to recognize even the most heinous criminals as human beings and therefore of intrinsic worth. He clung to his belief in the dignity of man and managed to hold faith with something greater, some hope for humanity. He lived as a shepherd shot through by the call to pour himself out for the sake of his flock, embracing the assassin who tried to take his life. He believed in suffering as a redemptive internal transformation, and put his faith in the paradoxical triumph of the cross.
“The man has taken with him the world’s inner structure, where the greater the anger, the higher the explosion of love,” he wrote in the aftermath of watching one of his fellow quarry workers blasted to death in the horrendous conditions under the Nazis in Poland during World War II. In the shattered reality of a mangled corpse, he still saw the promise of resurrection.
Christians believe God incarnated into the human drama only to be conspired against, betrayed, and murdered. The problem of evil can’t get more problematic than that, the notion of God, pressed down into 33 years of finite flesh and blood suffocating on a tree. Christians, through an excess of familiarity, forget to be shocked. Sometimes I will think about it and it will feel fresh to me, and I will think “I pray to a God who suffocated to death, and had his heart torn open.” It’s almost scary to believe such a thing. This world has suffering knit into it, and it is not just a God who is who all powerful, but rather all vulnerable, who is, in a sense, knit into the suffering itself, sacrificed to it. All we should ask is that we might be knit into Him through it all.
Stephen R. Lawhead writes in his novel Byzantium: “This is the heart of the great mystery: that God became man, shouldering the weight of suffering so that on the final day none could say, ‘Who are you to judge the world? What do you know of injustice? What do you know of torture, sickness, poverty? How dare you call yourself a righteous God! What do you know of death?'”
Christianity engages in suffering with utter realism, never diminishing the reality that some things should strike us like a blow to the very core. Jesus, in all His humanity, wept before the incomprehensible enormity of death. Yet, this grief itself is the groundwork on transfiguration, which is not so much to change, as to become more fully itself and more: it is irradiated with beauty. The cross is the pin-point of this cosmic pain and profound tension, where light and dark, suffering and healing are made sisters, the final gathering-place of all ideas, intentions, and dreams of Jesus.
There is that wonderful, terrible moment when you took at the stable and see the cross, or look to the cross and see the stable. And suddenly you know He is one and the same, the baby born among sheep and cows who will one day be stretched out and suffocated between two criminals. And you can smell the wood, of manger, cross, and church pew, when you’re kneeling down with the Eucharist in your mouth, and you know all time and all eternity is on your tongue, and my God, it’s a wonderfully empowering, terribly humbling thing. It is the problem of pain suddenly pressing in about you, and becoming present the very workings of your biological reality. It is facing the worst fear, that of death, and suffering through with it to paradise.
When the last path is tread, and the last river drained, when the last star falls, and the last blood bleeds, will our hearts not splinter and our lips resound “My God, my God”? For this is all we have, in the end; this is all we have ever had. We are walking the weary way, haunted by the hallowed ghost, and our breath cannot but carry her wisdom in our souls, beaten in by the light, splintering at the sides of the glass, like a moth outside a lantern, craving oneness with the flame.
We may not know the answers, may not feel the faith, may be dead unto dust, and yet, at some point or other we will be pressed, and we will fall down on our knees beyond the ice and the fire, and we will cry out with the force of our forging, from all that is ourselves when the outer garments of the world are stripped, and my God, will that not be the prayer of prayers? Will it not be the act of the dart’s finding, and the heart’s piercing, and our death into life? For grace is knit into the essence of Man. It is the in-breathed conscious “I”, the original blessing that became our original sin, and yet holds a deeper primal claim. For grace is a beauty that can be warped all too easily, and yet while we live, and move, and have our being, it has never left us, never altogether.
One must embrace the sacred for its own sake, for the acknowledgement of goodness as being inherently stronger than evil, and life being inherently stronger than death. It is said that immortality and friendship are too good to be believed. And that is all the more reason to believe in them. For we must believe in Love or we are lost. We must be fools in order to grow wise. We must embrace paradox or we are set adrift. We must believe that our stories are worth telling, our songs worth singing, that cosmically, we are beings that reach for greater things. We reach for the unreachable stars, we sing ourselves to sleep. And is it not buried within these secrets, like the spark of life is buried in a dying seed? That we might yet overcome evil with good?
I will close with an anonymous prayer was written at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, and found beside the body of a dead child:
O Lord, remember not only the men and women
Of good will, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us;
Remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to
This suffering – our comradeship,
Our loyalty, our humility, our courage,
Our generosity, the greatness of heart
Which has grown out of all this, and when
They come to judgment let all the fruits
Which we have borne be their forgiveness.
March 22, 2018