April 20, 2007

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Trying to make sense of Virginia Tech tragedy

How can we explain it? How do we begin to make sense of the death of 33 people on the Virginia Tech campus on Monday?

Though this massacre happened far away from our homes in central and southern Indiana, it still weighs upon our hearts because the people who died are so much like our own loved ones, our friends and the strangers we pass on the street each day. They, like you and me, were all created in the image and likeness of God.

That is why, even though it seems futile, we trudge forward in the search for meaning in such meaninglessness.

As we plod along in our quest, we enter into the heart of a dark mystery. It is the mystery of evil itself, something with which wise men and women have grappled in their hearts throughout human history. They have wrestled with this shadowy foe, but have not overcome him.

A well-known account of the struggle with the problem of evil is found in the Old Testament’s Book of Job.

There we find a man who, perhaps much like the people who died at Virginia Tech, had done nothing to deserve the hardships that came his way through the working of the devil.

His family was killed. He was stricken with disease. And his way of life was utterly ruined.

His friends sought to convince Job that he must have done something wrong for such evil to happen to him. Job, however, would admit no wrongdoing.

He passionately sought from the Lord an answer for his sad situation.

Finally, God spoke to him: “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Jb 38:4).

After hearing these and many similar questions, Job could muster only this feeble reply, “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know” (Jb 42:3).

Job stood before two great mysteries—the mystery of evil and the mystery of divine Providence—and could find no meaning, at least none that could give him comfort. Left to our own devices, we can do no better.

In faith, we acknowledge that God only allowed and did not cause the evil in Job’s life. We also can affirm that God, in his mysterious Providence, brought good

out of it.

Can we dare to believe that the same can be said about the evil that happened on the Virginia Tech campus?

Yes, we can dare to say this, partly from what we can learn from Job, but more surely from the surpassing knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Only Jesus can face the dark foe that is evil and be victorious.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

Although found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, these words were written in the light of the Resurrection. They are a cry of victory.

But in the mystery of our life of faith, even though Christ has won the victory for us, we are still called to pick up our crosses each day and follow him.

Even though we may be basking in the light of Easter, let us all this day spiritually take on the role of Simon of Cyrene and in prayer help the families of those who have died to carry their grievous cross.

They, like the Apostle Thomas who at first doubted the Resurrection, may find it hard to believe that God can bring good out of this evil.

Let us, in their stead, dare to believe.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.) †

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