The terrible capacity of the human heart and mind to destructive urges is well know to Christians. It is something we are asked to acquaint ourselves with. On Good Friday we sit and watch a wholly innocent man die. And we ask ourselves – how do we add to these things? What do we do which leads to the death of the innocent? We examine, in painful detail, just how we add to the suffering of the world, because we believe that by causing suffering, we cause God to suffer.
And we also sit and see just how painful suffering can be. There is no glamour, no light relief in the thing. We do not imagine there is anything fun about it, any desirable element, any excuse. It is not a pleasant exercise, but it is a necessary one. Because from time to time there is a great deal of suffering in the world.
All of this gives a terrible, but in a way familiar, place to sit when we look at the hundred or so deaths one man can create in Norway. On the one hand, we can begin to imagine, only begin, mind you, just what it is like to be a parent whose child is missing; a parent whose child very probably drowned in pain and terror. On the other, we can begin to imagine, only begin, to think of what impulses of cruelty, of self-conviction, could drive somebody to think for one flicker of a second that it was perfectly fine to carry out mass-murder.
How did you solve the murder, Father Brown?’ That is, in different forms, the question G. K. Chesterton’s famous detective gets asked. The answer is always more or less the same, too. ‘Because I know what it is to be a murderer, a thief, a liar.’ Father Brown is, in fact, a kind, generous and honest man, but deep in him, and deep in all of us, lie impulses to dark things. When we are twisted by dark desires or by the imbalance of our minds humans can spill over into terrible acts.
The sheer scale of this, the closeness of this to our own culture, gives an especial horror to this. Where is God? Well, once again, he is helplessly suffering. Once again, we sit and watch him suffer and can do so little to help.
But what we can do, matters. We can turn, resolutely, from all thoughts of the kind which lead to this tragedy. The best thing we can do to make the world a less evil place is to start by resolutely learning to like our fellow people, and taking steps to learn to understand and sympathise with those for whom we have no natural warmth. Hatred generally dissolves with understanding and care. And if, gentle reader, you think that path is in any way easy, or a soft option, try and live it for a dozen or so years, and report back.