For the last decade in our country we have sadly witnessed the spiraling escalation of gun violence that has tragically snuffed out the lives of literally thousands of innocent lives from the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School to people of all ages innocently enjoying a concert in Las Vegas. Such senseless tragedies cannot help but trigger the age-old question for people of faith: “How can a good God permit such evil - the death of so many innocent lives?”
This wrenching question undoubtedly prompted the Prophet Habakkuk to utter his words of lament in our first reading this morning:
How Long, O Lord? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
But you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me
There is strife, and clamorous discord.
As the French saying goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Humanity continues to struggle with the powers of darkness that frustrate the plans of a loving and gracious God. Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the problem of evil for centuries. They too have tried to come to some understanding of the paradox that evil presents for those who believe in the goodness of God.
What has in time provided at least a beginning of an answer for me over the years is seeing the problem of evil, particularly moral evil, tied to the mystery of human freedom. We believe that God created us in freedom. We are not puppets manipulated by the strings of some heavenly spirit. When God breathed life into the human soul, God breathed the freedom that creates the possibility for both love and, sadly, hate to exist. Coercion to love is manipulation. Because we are created in freedom, we can choose to love or not to love - Paradoxically, that is what makes love genuine.
God’s word that informs our faith is an ongoing message that challenges us daily to “choose love and life.” Yet, all of us know that at times that message goes unheeded. At the root of sin, lies the self-destructive tendency in all of us to close our ears to this challenge and to choose self, to choose the way of that will satisfy solely “my needs, my wants, my desires.” Carried to its extreme, this absorption and preoccupation with self creates the lethal environment in our world that can trigger the darkness that can so brutally scar the human spirit.
No wonder then that the apostles asked the Lord for an “Increase in faith.” For there is no other antidote to this human tendency toward self absorption than the larger vision of life that comes to us by way of the gift of faith.
Faith broadens our vision to realize that we have an eternal destiny that is shaped by one who triumphed over the power of darkness and refused to be defeated by death. The triumph of the cross and the one who hung upon it empowers us to confront the darkness with eternal hope. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to his mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
My sisters and brothers, the evil of these times, must be confronted not with the spirit of darkness but rather the spirit of light that gives focus and direction to our courage. Paul in his letter to Timothy sets before us wise advice when he reminds us that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”
In the days and weeks ahead, may our prayer be for an increase in faith that can indeed empower us to build a world where all God’s children will be free from fear. May the Lord “lead us to seek beyond our reach and give us the courage to stand before his truth with hearts renewed by love.