When bad things happen to good people24 Nov 2015
The abhorrent attacks in Paris two weeks ago have been at the forefront of our conversations. Sadly our world has seen these types of events before, in both affluent and in impoverished countries. We of course take more notice when these things happen in ‘safe’ places.
Whilst disturbing we cannot live in fear of what might happen. As people of faith we believe that God offers every person free will, the ability to decide. As the Adam and Eve narrative (Genesis 3:1-7) illustrates we have been the gift of freely making a decision and acting upon it, with good or bad consequences. Some people make a decision to choose evil. The Church teaches that we also must make decisions based upon our conscience. Some people are capable of great evil and seem to be untroubled by their conscience. It is still difficult to believe that people are capable of such vicious and unmerciful behaviour.
We have seen such barbaric behaviour before and will again. Twenty-six years ago this month, six Jesuit priests, a cook and her fifteen-year-old daughter were murdered in El Salvador at the University of Central America. The Jesuits, and the university they led were heavily involved in social research and were publically critical of the abuses within the country during the civil war. This was enough reason for those involved to decide to murder them. Although iniquitous, their murder was planned and carried out without mercy, as were the attacks in Paris, and the men responsible have never apologised or shown any remorse.
During events such as these, some question where God is and why such things are be ‘allowed’ to happen. If God is all knowing and all-powerful surely God could stop these things from happening. I cannot offer a true and full answer to such thinking, as I do not know the correct answer. I can offer the following thoughts that may in part respond to such questions:
If God stopped evil or incorrect choices we would not be his children. We would be puppets, incapable of truly loving him; in turn he would not be God. We have been given the gift of free will and need to respect this opportunity and make good decisions throughout our life in gratitude for this great gift. Although making the best decision is not always easy, in the presence of God, with the guidance of the Spirit we are able to be better.
God does not ‘allow’ evil to occur, nor does God stop it. Evil occurs because people chose to behave in ways contrary to what is right.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus said:
‘And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.’ (Matthew 24:6-8).
He knew that we are human and that people are capable of violence and evil and that we will contend with this until he returns again. We as believers can make a bigger difference in the world than those who attacked Paris. We can live as Jesus taught us, we can be the Good Samaritan to those in need, regardless of their religion or lack of religion. We can all build unity and spread love within the world.
The Church also acknowledges this reality. There is no doubt that at certain times conflict may be the only way to put an end to evil in our own society or internationally. In some cases good can only eventuate through force (CC2307-2390), but this must be entered into as a last resort and be morally legitimate.
Ultimately we are called to be ‘God’s hands and feet’ in the world. We are to act as God would in the world to bring about the Kingdom. In doing so our conscience will be content as we live according to God’s will rather than our own. At this time one way we could all live, as we should is to acknowledge the inherent good of Muslim people and the moral virtues the tradition promotes.
We can educate ourselves about Islam and engage in interfaith dialogue. As St John Paul II said:
‘Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.’ (Morocco 1985)
With all of this in mind I can assure you that we have been changed by what has occurred in Paris. We have all been given the gift of free will and thus each of us has therefore the ability to make the world a more beautiful place by living as Christ taught us. In a myriad of religious traditions and amongst the violence that shocks and appalls us – we have a choice to follow Christ, or follow our own emotion-based response. We have been given the freedom to decide how we live. I pray you always make a choice that reflects Christ and that you always feel the Spirit in all aspects of your life.
Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.