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When Words Fail

I was hoping I wouldn’t feel the need to write a post like this for quite some time. Unfortunately, evil exists in this world, and so it seems that every few months, an incomprehensible act of violence shakes our society to its core.

It seems like just a few weeks ago that I was feeling this dawning horror over the events in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And now, here we are again. Someone planted four bombs right around the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Two of them exploded, two of them were discovered and disarmed by the police.

When I last read the news, the tally of the injured had reached 125. Three people were killed; one of them was an 8-year-old. Meanwhile, many of the injured had limbs so badly mangled that they required amputation. Some of the injured were runners. I cannot imagine going from running a marathon one moment to losing your legs a few hours later.

I first heard the news, as I so often find out about momentous events, on Twitter. I found myself part of an outpouring of grief, of confusion, of frustration. I saw many of the finest possible sentiments expressed. I also saw two sentiments that I have seen many, many times before, after tragedies such as this one. They have always bothered me.

One: “What is wrong with people?”

And two: “What is wrong with this world?”

In my view, these questions can, in fact, be very easily answered: What is wrong with people is that we all have sinful natures. What is wrong with this world is that it is a fallen world, full of imperfect people.

However, just because those questions can be easily answered doesn’t mean they didn’t still bother me. And I think I know why.

“What is wrong with people” makes it sound as if everyone on earth is at fault when someone commits atrocities. So, for that matter does “What is wrong with this world?” Both questions make it sound as though atrocities are a normal way of life, that all of us (or even most of us) sit back and approve of them. That’s hardly true. Sometimes, the only question to be asked is “what is wrong with [the person who committed the atrocity].”

Sometimes, “What is wrong with this world today?” is asked. As if evil is a new thing, as if years and decades ago, no horrible crimes were ever committed. Sadly, that’s not true. Evil was every bit as prevalent in bygone eras as it is today. But we now have a sophisticated, swift, and broadly-reaching media system, so that whenever such a tragedy occurs, we know within minutes. And with videographers and photographers around every bend, we know every intimate detail within minutes.

So, while it may seem that terrible tragedies happen more often now, I think the truth is that terrible tragedies are merely more visible. This can be heartbreaking, but it’s actually a good thing. Evil needs silence to flourish. When evil is brought to light, it can be vanquished.

What’s more, God’s love is always available, and it always flourishes. I saw God’s love today in the runners who finished the marathon, then ran to the hospital to give blood. I saw it in the first responders, the fire fighters and police officers and paramedics who rushed to the scene. I saw it in the many volunteers who did the same. And I saw it in the way the people of Boston rallied together in support of their city. I even saw it in the most unlikely place, at least to my eyes: in the work of the Boston Globe, the city’s largest newspaper.

I speak quite frequently about the missteps of the media. Members of the press have developed looser standards of the years, from requiring 3 or 4 sources for every story to not worrying so much about one source being incorrect. The rallying cry of the press used to be “get it right!”; now, it seems to be instead “get it first!”

I saw a very different approach in the Boston Globe today. Their methods were careful and exacting. They didn’t produce sensationalist headlines; they gave the facts and refused to participate in speculation. Today I saw, very quickly, that the Boston Globe was a news source I could trust to publish only what they knew to be true.

While we live in a fallen world, we’re going to see tragedies. It’s a sad fact of life. But I hope these tragedies never entice me to say “the world has gone to hell.” Because if there’s one thing I do believe, it’s that God’s love conquers all, even the darkest places. 

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