A group of atheists in my town is spending money to buy billboard space to convince people there is nothing. The only other group that quickly comes to mind that spends so much time and money to prove that there is nothing are those fiercely for abortion.
The atheist group has chosen to utilize one of the best arguments for there not being a God: evil and suffering exist. The billboard points to the millions who died in World War II as evidence of there being nobody who heard the prayers of the Christians and Jews. It is a compelling argument. Nearly everyone can point to an instance in their life or in the life of someone they know that seems to not mesh with a good and all-loving God. But what if the state of the world pointed more to the depravity of which mankind is capable rather than the non-existence of God?
There isn’t simply one example to look at for this; there are a plethora of events and situations to choose from. The Holocaust. Rwandan genocide. Human trafficking. School shootings. Stalin’s Gulag. Slavery. The list could go on and on. There is no shortage for examples of humans being inhumane to other humans. It happens every day. It happens in police brutality. It happens in violence toward police. It happens in violent gun shootings. It happens in criminal torturing. Humans, not God, seem to be very adept at bringing suffering into the lives of other humans.
Currently, we are having this debate about gun regulations and laws. The problem is not gun-related. Humans have had guns for years and with far less regulation than there is now. As technology develops, guns will continue to develop. I am not advocating zero restrictions on guns, but I think it is time that we admit that guns are not the problem.
Yes, I heard about the shooting in Newtown. I was a teacher at the time and I cried over the lost lives of students and teachers. Yes, I heard about the shooting in San Bernadino. Yes, I heard about the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It isn’t that I am indifferent to these attacks: my heart aches when I hear of each new act of violence. But the problem is not the weapon they chose to use.
I can say this confidently about every one of these violent attacks: guns are not the culprit. The problem is the human heart. These are not incidents of robots crazily shooting people. These are all situations of human beings choosing to go and end the lives of fellow human beings. We can enforce all kinds of gun laws and we can restrict guns so that only those in the military have them, but we will be fighting a battle that we cannot win if that is as deep as we go. The only thing that will really end this violence is not the reform of gun laws but the reform of the human heart.
Look at human history. If we do not have guns, we will resort to other means to kill people. Hitler’s concentration camps were not so efficient because they used guns. Rather, they created gas chambers so as to kill people quickly. Millions of people. People with names and families, people with hopes and fears.
The Rwandan genocide was so devastating because it convinced people to take up machetes against their neighbors. The Hutus killed around 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, in the matter of three months. It wasn’t an elaborate system, per say, but it was effective as it called for ordinary people to kill those they deemed a threat.
More and more examples could be solicited, but I think this is sufficient. The violence throughout the world in past and present years is not one that will be solved by gun reform or any type of human law. These examples of violence from Rwanda to Orlando to Poland all boil down to hatred of other human beings. Over the years we have tried to solve these human problems in merely human ways and there has been limited success. Will Orlando be the last mass shooting to take place in the United States or in the world? It will not, despite my hope that it would be.
This pain and suffering is ages and ages old. It is not simply a matter of weaponry, race, religion, or location. It is problem that is deep within the heart of man. Cain and Abel were brothers and shared much in common. But jealously and hatred led to the death of one and the exile of another. Different factors weigh in today that often cloud the true situation. Yes, some people hate others because of their race. Or their religion. Or their wealth. Or for a number of other reasons. I do not want to minimize these factors but I do want them to take their rightful place as secondary to the true cause: hatred of others and inability to see fellow humans with their inherent dignity.
There is much suffering in this world. It is easier to explain it when the pain is distant and removed from me. Though I have never experienced the pain of someone I am close to being killed, I have suffered. Some suffering can never be fully understood but the passing of time allows a new perspective, a new (even if incomplete) understanding of the role of the suffering in one’s life. But, in a certain sense, I think violence can never be fully understood because it was not meant to be this way. Humans were not meant to kill other humans. We weren’t made to be perpetually at war with one another. Rather, we were made for peace. There must necessarily be a certain amount of unrest when we hear in the news that more violence has been perpetrated. In the beginning, it was not meant to be this way.
This is not because we are God-less. Instead, I would point to our frustration or inability to reconcile with such tragedy as proof that we were not made to encounter such evil. It was not in the primary plan. Each person seems to be afflicted with a resounding, “Why?” when hearing of new violence. If all of the world is the result of chance and could just as well be as not be, then I would offer, “Why not?” Why should we think it must be another way? Why should we think that peace is possible? Why should we think that peace is preferable? I would argue that humanity wants peace because it fulfills one of our deepest longings, something written on our hearts. Violence, hatred, senseless killing make such an impact on us and cause so much internal unrest because we are desirous of something else. We were made for peace, joy, and love. At times, this world seems to deliver so little of any of those.
Believing in God is not a comfort mechanism, although I do find comfort in this belief. With belief in God I am able to look through the rubble and see the wildflowers that surprisingly press their way through the chaos of this war-torn world. In the midst of the Holocaust, I find the surprising beauty of the lives of St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Through the horror of the Rwandan genocide, I hear the story of Immaculee Ilibagiza, survivor of the violence because of the generosity of another and who was able to forgive those who killed her family. In the sadness of the Newtown school shooting, I am emboldened by the witness of teachers who protected their students at the cost of their own lives.
This is God working in the midst of our fallen world. These are the rays of joy that pierce the hatred that threatens to cover us all.
Yet, in a way, perhaps the atheists are right.
They profess that there is no God because He could not possibly allow such violence and pain to inflict our world. Maybe the God that exists is just different then what they expected. Instead of a God who strips away all choice so as a have a perfect world, we have a God who permits free will, even when we use it to destroy the world He created. Instead of perfect robots, He chose to have flawed human beings, because at least a flawed humanity still has the choice to serve Him or not. This God that manages a perfect world with perfect human beings who always choose to follow Him does not exist. This is not because He did not want it to be so, but because we did not.
Pursuing a world that is filled with more peace and less war, more love and less hate, and more joy and less fear will not come about as a purely human endeavor. It will not be achieved simply through additional laws or changes in government. This peace, love, and joy we desire can only be arrived at through the intense reform of the human heart. That person’s heart, your heart, and my heart. And this heart reform can only be done through an intense relationship with the One who formed the heart in the first place.
When God is at the center, everything else falls into place.
(Thirsting for Prayer, Jacques Philippe)