And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

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?

Right here.

And here.

And here.

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.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Tim Kluge

    Mr. McDonald,
    I praise God for the gifts and graces he has given you. I’ve always been impressed and bolstered by your messages of hope after or in the face of tragedy. After your self-revealing post regarding Matthew Warren, I am in awe of the wonder of God’s will and how He is able to use a man such as yourself, admittedly faulty, to spread such messages of hope. This post regarding Boston is especially wonderful, and I felt compelled to let you know so. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ, because you are certainly making a difference in this mad world.

  • victor

    I echo everything Tim just beautifully said above. This is all so hearbreaking… it’s too much. But yes, God was there just as surely as he was anyplace else where people let Him in.

  • Chad H

    I think the tendency in these situations is to have very dark thoughts about the wickedness in human nature, but the truth is, whether it was a single perpetrator or a group, the people responsible for this tragedy represent a tiny fraction of the human family. And, hard as it is to experience darkness, there is a light that shines through all the clearer in these moments.

    Where was God in this? He was in the runners who crossed the finish line and kept running straight to the hospital to give blood. He was in the thousands of Bostonians offering their homes to anyone in need. He was in the people at the scene who immediately ran into to the blast to aid the injured. INTO the blast. God’s grace and love is at work in the darkest of moments, if we look for him.

  • marye

    For me, this says it all:

    “Every time the forces of darkness crack open our world, the light rushes in. ”

    Thank you for this column.

  • Maggie Goff

    What Tim said above….and thank you for using the beautiful and important gift that God gave to you, Tom. Very much thank you.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Thank you for the kind words everyone.

  • Mephis

    Thank you for this post, truly. Beautiful, every word of it. I hope I’ll remember to return to it when I’ll need to hear it again.

  • Christine the Soccer Mom

    It was miraculous that so few were killed. It was miraculous that people ran faster than they’d ever done a marathon, or were just off their pace and feeling disappointed that they wouldn’t finish within their usual ranges of time.

    Thanks so much for this piece.

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  • Briana

    Thank you, I needed that so very much.

  • Clara

    Thank you. Thank you!