Responding to evil in the world: do we accept what we expect or is there another way?
The last few days have seen some terrible things happen in various places around the world and many words written and spoken in response. Words of grief, words of fear, words asking questions, words expressing unease. I have hesitated to add my words for two reasons. The first is that I’m not sure I have much new to say. The second is that I worry that by saying something, assumptions will be made about all the things I leave unsaid.
But I called my blog “thinking out loud” because for me it is often in sharing my questions that I begin to discover answers (or more questions!) So what I add here are not my first thoughts nor my final thoughts, not my only thoughts nor my complete thoughts. Just something I’m still working through and out …
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are some of the tragic events of the last month or so.
On October 5, 57 people were killed when a car bomb went off outside their local market.
On October 10, 102 people were killed as they attended a rally for peace in their capital city.
On October 14, 42 people were killed when suicide bombers entered their place of worship, and on October 23, another 27 were killed in similar circumstances in the same country.
On October 31, 224 people were killed when their aeroplane was brought down by an act of terrorism.
On November 12, 43 people were killed when suicide bombers detonated explosives in a suburban neighbourhood.
On November 13, over 129 people were killed due to a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in cafes and clubs.
By not including the places where these tragic events happened, they all sound the same. And on very many levels they are the same. All were acts of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of innocent people going about their daily lives. But in one important way, they are not the same at all.
One of the questions that is being asked is why only the last of these has generated wall to wall news coverage, the use of lights and flags on iconic buildings around the world as signs of solidarity, and statements of sympathy and determination to avenge by numerous western world leaders including the US President and the Australian Prime Minister.
I’m not sure there is a simple answer. I know there is no comfortable answer. Because for me, the question has to be personal. I could blame the media for making more of some things and not telling me about others, but I’m pretty sure their reasons are not that different from my own. Why did I have a stronger reaction to one event than I did to the others?
First, if I’m honest, there is the “it could have been me” factor. A place that I have recently been to, a place I am familiar with, a place that feels similar to where I live, people whom I somehow see as more “like” me… this is easier for me to sympathise with. I wish that was not true, but it is. I want to keep working hard to try to overcome that natural tendency I see within me. I need you to help me with this.
But the second thought I have had is about expectations. Are there some places in the world where these events feel unexpected to me? And therefore some where subconsciously they are, in contrast, “expected”? Have I somehow in my mind divided up the world into places where I think “this kind of thing happens” and places where I think it doesn’t?
And here’s the question that really horrifies me.
If there are places where I think these events are to be expected, does that lead me to assume that there are places where these events are to be accepted?
I hope not, but I fear if I’m not careful that may be my subconscious attitude. And I wonder what the alternative is.
Is it our level of expectation or our level or acceptance that needs to change? As a follower of Jesus, I think, perhaps seemingly contradictorily, the answer is both. And that somehow, it is in living in the tension that expects evil and yet does not accept it, that hope is found.
Jesus teaches me that evil and the resultant suffering are to be expected everywhere. We live in a broken and hurting world and even the places we like to pretend are in some kind of protective, prosperous bubble are in reality fragile and vulnerable to the power of sin and darkness. "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16.33 NLT
At the same time, Jesus calls me to act and speak out in a way that does not just accept evil and its resultant suffering anywhere. That works to overcome and respond with compassion and love to all people in all places so that His light might be seen where it is desperately needed … which is everywhere.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." Matthew 5.43-45 NLT
First posted on Melinda's blog here Melinda is an ordained Baptist pastor. She is currently a full time PhD student researching the Old Testament Psalms. She teaches biblical studies at Tabor Adelaide.