The Mystery of Evil

"Investigators Seek Reason for School Shootings" say the headlines. Was it because of poverty? Were the killers incited to murder by the taunts of their peers? Was it access to guns? Was it their parents? Their school? Their physiology? What, as the phrase goes, drove them to it?

We want rational answers, solutions, a fix to the problem. But the reality is we don't know what drove them-nor even if they were driven-to commit this monstrous crime. The horrible fact is that they may very well not have been "driven" by anything. They may have freely chosen it (albeit under influences ranging from the human to the demonic). We are, in short, face to face with the fact that evil is fundamentally a mystery, not a "problem" reducible to "reasons".

Americans, in particular, don't want to hear that. We fear that to concede evil is a mystery is to throw up our hands and declare it can't be "fixed." But the reality is that, in facing the fact that evil ultimately has no good "reasons" for what it does, we must address the whole question in an altogether different light.

Evil is a mystery, but not the ultimate one. Love is. More mysterious than why two boys enacted great evil is the miraculous and heart-rending mystery of why two of their victims professed faith in God in the moments before they were shot (one fatally), and why so many of their loved ones continued to do so with greater strength than ever afterwards. The answer of Christ Crucified (himself an impenetrable mystery) is that God loves us and wills to embrace us in ecstatic union forever and ever, if we will only say yes to him. We can no more grasp that than we can grasp why a person would so blind themselves with hate as to look someone in the eye and kill them. But we can at least grasp that love is the mystery of Creation and Redemption and hate is the mystery of destruction. We can see in the young martyrs at Columbine (and in their suffering families) Jesus crucified for us-even for his murderers-yet again.

Crimes like this move people to feel some radical revolutionary action must be taken to somehow purge evil from the world. Chesterton said long ago that Creation was the greatest of all revolutions. It is God's refusal to submit to nothingness and chaos. It is his Yes, shouted into the Void and filling it with life that can't be cowed or stopped. It is his complete act of self-giving, culminating in his baptism into the depths of our anguish and his smashing of death from the inside out.

That too, is a mystery. But like the mystery of creation and of evil, it is reality as well. Let us, therefore, in the words of John Paul II, commit ourselves "to promoting and transmitting the moral vision and the values which alone can ensure respect for the inviolable dignity of human life." That is not a "solution". That is an invitation to do the only thing we can in the face of the mystery of evil, embrace the mystery of the Resurrection.

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea