The heart-wrenching tragedy at Virginia Tech on Tuesday has undoubtedly thrown many people into a state of confusion, dismay, and pain. I would venture to guess that more than a few people have asked the question, “Why do things like this happen?” I think part of the reason why we still ask this question is because we have come to have so much faith in our own technological and moral advancement that the possibility of committing such atrocities as Columbine or the attacks on September 11 is out of the minds of most people. We convince ourselves that as humans advance, eventually all of the sickness and depravity of the world will be fixed.
In reality, human advancement has done nothing to eradicate evil. And that is what tragedies like what happened at Virginia Tech are: evil. Our society hesitates to even use that word because philosophers and psychologists do not like to acknowledge its presence. It just doesn’t sound scientific to admit that a force called evil could exist and exert influence on the events of the world. But that moment when your stomach turns while you’re watching the news about thirty-three students murdered by a classmate is nothing other than your heart feeling the tangible presence of evil in our world today.
To admit the presence of evil means three things. First, it means admitting that humans are incapable of scientifically knowing everything. The Enlightenment tried to teach us that we are intelligent enough that we can discern all truth by means of experiment and evidence. But to admit evil’s existence is to be humbled, to be conscious of our own inadequacies. Secondly, acknowledging evil begs the question, “Is there a God, and if so, why doesn’t he just eradicate evil?” The answer to this question is much more complex, and I won’t attempt to answer it in such a small space. My own thought is that if we are willing to acknowledge our own weakness as humans and to acknowledge that evil does actually exist, then it does not seem far-fetched that there is a God who actively opposes evil. The third consequence of admitting that evil does exist is to wonder what we are supposed to do about it. Here again, this question is incredibly complex and I do not believe it has easy answers. But I believe that it has a simple answer, which is to love.
To love one another as brothers and sisters regardless of race, gender, and economic class is to undermine the essence of evil and remove its sting. Evil bares its teeth through hatred and extreme selfish motivation. By bearing the brunt of evil’s brutality as a community that cares for one another and sees no person as an inferior, we are much better equipped to fight evil than we are by placing hope in human advancement. To suggest love as an answer is to sound idealistic, or some would say “hippie-ish.” I do not mean to suggest that loving each other will prevent all evil, but rather that it is the only right response humans are capable of doing. No amount of security, teaching, or even psychological counseling will ever address the root causes of evil with the same effectiveness as love. Take, for example, Uganda, where child soldiers have been abducted and slaughtered for decades, communities are finding that forgiveness and love towards those who have committed evil is the only way of bringing healing and peace to their broken world.
As N.T. Wright, author of Evil and the Justice of God, eloquently says, “Evil is still a four letter word.” The truth about evil is that it is still an active presence in the world today. It is refreshing to me that another four letter word represents the hope I have that evil will not have the final victory: love.