Whenever I hear of cruelty to women, children, or even animals, I immediately react with feelings of rage. Let me avenge these wrongs. Let me decide the fate of those who commit such atrocities. I will surely fit the punishment to the crime.
After I calm down and remind myself that in doing so I would become like those monsters I want to make suffer, a different emotion takes over. Although I was never the victim of abuse, I feel that I can identify with the victims of abuse. I can feel the pain, the fear, the despair that they, the victims, must experience. I want to cry, but most of all I ask God why he allows such evil. He is sovereign, is he not?
Theologians, preachers, and a wide variety of self-appointed spokespersons for God are quick to provide an answer. More often than not they expose their ignorance. Better to remain silent than address issues about which one is not qualified to speak. Reading a few books, especially the syrupy inspirational goo that clutters the shelves of Christian bookstores, testimonies by those who suddenly “found Jesus” and no longer need bother themselves with the challenge of living in the real world, will not do. One must get up close and experience the true banality of evil.
Holly Burkhalter is one who has earned the right to ask the really tough questions of God. She spent many years as a human rights advocate. She has seen firsthand just how depraved human beings can be towards the most vulnerable. She has seen the horrors of children of preschool age held in bondage to pimps who rent them out to adults willing to pay for the opportunity to sexually abuse them.
Ms. Burkhalter has intimate knowledge of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Many of the victims took refuge in churches only to discover that the churches were slaughter houses. The Rwandan church leaders refused to condemn the genocide, even when it took place in the churches. The whole of Christendom remained largely silent. American Christians turned their faces away and ignored the cries of those they called “brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The Rwandan genocide was the result of human choices. Likewise is the inhuman treatment of the children enslaved in the brothels that cater to well-to-do tourists from Europe and America the result of human choices. The perpetrators of such crimes are entrepreneurs providing services that others demand and are willing to pay for.
None of us, you and I, would ever participate in such criminal activity. After all, are we not Christians living in a Christian nation founded on Christian principles by our Christian Founding Fathers? We go to “big box” retail outlets in order to fill our closets with cheap clothing we do not need, while plugging our ears to the cries and shielding our eyes from the tears of the children who work long hours under harsh conditions for pitifully small wages to produce our plenty.
Not only non-believers, as was Holly Burkhalter for much of her life, ask, “Where is God?” Many Christians also ask that question, again and again and again, as did the Old Testament prophets. There isn’t an answer. Of course, there are attempts at formulating an answer by theologians who labor long hours over biblical passages in a variety of languages, ancient and modern. But their answers fall short no matter how learned and logical they sound. Some find that no matter how hard they try, they cannot go on without some answer as to why God, the great I AM who spoke to Moses from a burning bush, sovereign over all that exists, does not intervene and deliver the justice he promises.
Ms. Burkhalter writes of Kevin Carter, a photographer who won the Pulitzer Prize for his picture of a starving Sudanese toddler lying in the dirt while a vulture waited patiently nearby. Two months later, Kevin Carter took his own life. In an attempt to explain why, he wrote, “I am depressed. . .I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain. . .of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.”
What Burkhalter discovered, was that the awesome question of why cannot be answered. It is a mystery. But what we do know is that only the God revealed in the Bible and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ can provide an answer for the existence of evil. No other religious or secular philosophy can do so. Why God does not do what we would do, and what we would have him do, is a question we cannot answer. We do know God is sovereign over all, and that justice will prevail, as he has promised. No injustice will go unanswered. No tear is shed that is not seen, or will not be wiped away.
In the end, “after forty-plus years of skepticism, cynicism, and doubt,” Holly Burkhalter came to the conclusion that God exists. “I know it,” she writes, “because, oddly, I see signs everywhere, including in the very places that previously seemed to be proof of the Lord’s absence, or worse, the Creator’s neglect of a battered, hungry, suffering creation.”
Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures, and always live under the mercy.