Like most Americans I will never forget the morning of September 11, 2001. All of us were deeply shaken when terrorists hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania. For Americans the world seemed to pivot that day. Suddenly we felt significantly more vulnerable and more afraid, and things have really never been the same.
The news of the massacre in Las Vegas has had a similar effect on me and likely many others. As Americans we believe that humans are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is difficult to comprehend how a lone gunman could take away the right to life for so many people in such a short amount of time.
With each of these horrific events, which have become disturbingly all too common, it feels like my faith and hope are being chipped away. It all seems too much to bear.
With each taking of innocent human life we see the face of moral evil and the deep darkness of human depravity on full display. Sometimes, in the face of horrible evil such is this it’s hard to have faith in a good God. Theologians call this difficulty “the problem of evil” or theodicy. Much has been written about this subject, and I am grateful for the wise and faithful persons who have wrestled with these issues over the centuries. One such person is St. Augustine. I learned in seminary that Augustine had difficulty in believing that God would create evil. We understand through the scriptures that God created everything and that God proclaimed that everything he created was “very good,” how could God create evil? It was Augustine’s belief that God did not create evil, but instead evil is actually the absence of good. Evil was not created, it is a vacuum devoid of good.
In Romans Paul writes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”(Romans 12:21). In the face of such dark evil as has been witnessed this week, I think this is the best response for people who follow Jesus. We must overcome the individual and systemic evil that led to this horrible event with overcoming goodness. In many ways we’ve seen the overcoming power of good through the stories of heroism, selflessness, and love coming out of Las Vegas this week. Everyday I’ve heard new stories of people risking their lives for others, people carrying wounded strangers to safety, and heroes literally laying down their lives to protect others. In this horrible vacuum of evil, you see goodness overcoming it.
It’s in this response of overcoming goodness and love that I am still able to find hope. With each act of bravery and love I’m reminded God didn’t create this evil, but it must be overcome by good.