Yesterday I was asked during a radio broadcast why bad things happen to good people. I answered by saying that no one really knows the answer to that question, that the best minds in history have grappled with the problem of evil, and that we can't draw a straight line from our knowledge to a troubled young man with two guns on Monday morning. To put the matter that way is not to say that there aren't answers. Perspectives might be a better word. The Bible offers many perspectives on God and evil that help us in times like these. But inevitably we want more. Not just, why did this happen? But why now? Why here? Why did this person live and that person die? Why didn't God stop it? Or why did he allow it? We have a son who is a senior in college. Like all parents, we worried about his safety and then stopped to think, "It could have happened at his school."
One part of the Christian answer stresses that this world is not the way God created it. Evil has invaded the world and taken it over. We know that intellectually and personally, and we experience it in a thousand ways every day. But now and then horrendous evil, unspeakable violence, rips through the fabric of life and we stare it full in the face. That's what happened at Columbine eight years ago this Friday. That’s what happened on 9/11. And that's what happened two days ago at Virginia Tech. Small-time evil we can understand and even live with. But this sort of thing numbs us and frightens us because we don’t know what to do about it.
When Chuck Colson received the 1993 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, he spoke to an audience at the University of Chicago on "The Enduring Revolution." In describing the plight of modern society, he mentions four myths that define our time--"the four horsemen of the present apocalypse." The first myth is the goodness of man.
"This myth deludes people into thinking that they are always victims, never villains; always deprived, never depraved. It dismisses responsibility as the teaching of a darker age. It can excuse any crime, because it can always blame something else -- a sickness of our society or a sickness of the mind."
Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur was a witness during the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi "final solution" during World War II. Eichmann presided over the slaughter of millions. "The court was hushed as a victim confronted a butcher." Suddenly Dinur broke into uncontrollable sobs, and collapsed to the floor. When asked later to explain his actions, he said, "I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this…Exactly like he." The reporter who interviewed Dinur concluded that the most chilling fact about Adolph Eichmann was that he was normal. "Eichmann is in all of us."
The line between us and Cho Seung Hui is thin indeed.
Another part of the Christian answer reminds us that evil is not just "out there" somewhere. It is also "in here," inside all of us. In another generation there was an old-time radio show that began with the announcer intoning, "Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man? The Shadow knows." The idea of evil lurking in the heart is as old as the human race. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" We are all sick because of sin, and the disease is 100% fatal. Sin has infected every human heart. No one escapes it. Whenever I am quoting Romans 3:23 in a sermon, I like to ask the congregation if anyone knows the last phrase of verse 22. No one ever does--at least not without looking down at the Bible. But the last phrase of verse 22 is the key to verse 23. It says "for there is no difference." That explains the famous statement in verse 23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We’re all in the same boat. No matter who we are or where we come from, we're all sinners desperately in need of God's grace. No difference between rich and poor, young and old, black or white, male or female, no difference between any of us when it comes to sin. We all stand condemned by our sin and all of us are under the judgment of God. Our sins may not be exactly the same, but we are all sinners nonetheless.
While we are wondering about the evil "out there," we ought to also take a good look in the mirror. Apart from the grace of God, who knows what horrible things we might do?
Finally (and here we will leave the matter for the moment) the Bible assures us that evil is not eternal. A few days ago I heard someone say that God doesn't exist. He is. Existence is a category we create to explain our own appearance on planet earth. We exist because God brought us into being. We are here by his permission and when our life has run its course, we will be gone. God is not like that. He does not "exist" as we do. God is. Now take that concept and apply it to the massacre on Monday. What happened was unspeakably evil, but it is not the last word. It is not even the last word this week as we have seen the students come together, and we have heard the stories of heroism as some died that others might live. Evil did not win on Monday and it will not, it cannot, win in the end.
But a day is coming when God will still be and evil will be gone forever. God will have the final word, and when he does, the evil in our midst and the evil within us will be gone forever.