By now you’ve heard the name of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombing yesterday. This is Martin:
This picture filled my social media and news feeds this morning, and it just hit me in the gut. My wife is a sacrament coordinator, and Martin is dressed in his first communion suit and holding the same banners she has all her students make each year.
We’re in the First Communion season now, so she’s having retreats and preparing kids like Martin to receive the Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. It’s a wonderful age of openness and wonder and joy, and teaching religion to kids this age is to understand why Jesus said to let the little children come unto him. Theirs of the kingdom of heaven. They are open to the work of the Spirit in beautiful and simple ways. We’ve seen the giddy joy of kids who get it–really get it–coming to the Lord’s table for the first time. They’re touched by God, and they feel it.
To imagine, then, that beauty snuffed out in a second in the most brutal and pointless way imaginable is enough to make you weep and rage. Martin was waiting for his dad to finish so he could give him a drink. He was excited. He’d just had ice cream. He was standing in a crowd with his mother and sister, and then he was gone. He’s left behind a room full of toys and clothes and books that will stab his parents in the heart as each one recalls a gift that brought happiness and a moment lost in time. He’s left behind parents who will carry the intolerable burden of losing a child for all their remaining days. He’s left behind a whole school and Church and neighborhood and extended family full of people who are now touched by a violence from which they normally feel immune.
The first question after an outrage like this is often, “Where is God?”
Theology can offer no comfort to the grieving: only grace can do that. The Holy Spirit sometimes does His most powerful work without any words at all: in someone to hold a hand, bring over a meal, cry with those pain, and simply say, “I’m sorry.” Even commonplaces like “He’s in a better place,” though said with good intentions, are of little help and may actually hurt. Words fail us at these times. Love suffices, and sometimes love just means showing up.
But for the rest of the world, looking at this tragedy from the outside, the question presses on us: “Where is God?”
No one yet has found a better explanation than Augustine: evil is allowed to exist so that good may come of it. And good does come of it. It’s cold comfort to the grieving, but it helps us understand how this world fits together. We see the truth of it in the wake of Newtown, where a deep and impenetrable evil is yielding to good in the actions of those who survive. We already see it in Boston, where people reminded us that there is more good than bad.
Every time the forces of darkness crack open our world, the light rushes in. There is nothing in science, evolution, or psychology that can sufficiently explain people rushing towards danger to help strangers. Nothing. All the materialist explanations are just nonsense. It’s simply a function of grace. Sentient sacks of meat don’t rush into explosions to save other sentient sacks of meat. Only the human soul, which ties us to all others with bonds of love, is capable of that.
So where was God in Boston?
You see, evil can only triumph for a little while. Its victories are all Pyrrhic. Certainly, evil acts can generate more evil acts, but in the annals of human history evil acts have given us something in much greater quantity: saints. And the worst evil act of them all–the death of the incarnate Word–threw open the doors of heaven for us all. We already know the ending: God triumphs. Evil loses.
Sometimes, humanity is shown our capacity for evil so that we may show our even greater capacity for good.