Holocaust. Twin Towers. Dafur. Beslan. Evil. Why are human beings so capable of doing treachery to each other that beasts, with teeth and claw red with blood, could never dream of?
We too easily ascribe evil to godlessness. As in the argument of Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov that if there is no God, everything is permissible. Genocide. Melting steel towers and their inhabitants in a fireball of jet fuel. Rape. Shooting fleeing children in the back. Yet these evils were committed by those who believed they were doing God's will. Osama, certainly. His sympathizers in Sudan and Russia too. Even, Hitler, with his twisted rationalizations to prove God had ordained the Germanic tribe to rule the world.
No, atheism isn't behind the evil in the world. Twisted religion is. To one-up Ivan's argument: if God is on your side, everything is permissible.
The real issue, then, in this world where evil erupts terribly and too frequently is not God or no God, but what God.
Imams will have to account for Muslims on this score. I shall, however, write plainly for Christians... at least, those Christians who love Jesus, feel obliged to heed the Sermon on the Mount, and are acutely aware (in the shadow of the cross) of our very human temptation to excuse ourselves for every violation of the second greatest commandment.
We believe in a God who holds us accountable. Macbeth, pondering the murder of the king, hesitates,
that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
- We'd jump the life to come.
He anticipates the final judgment. As the Apostles' Creed puts it on the confessor's lips, "from thence [heaven] he [Jesus Christ] will come to judge the quick and the dead." And he has made it plain just what the basis of judgment will be: whether or not we have fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, and visited those in prison, among several compassionate deeds in line with loving our neighbors as ourselves. See Matthew 25:31ff. for corroboration of the accuracy of my claim.
Which leads to the second affirmation about what God it is Christians believe in: the God who has arranged this world and us so that we don't have to wait for eternity to settle accounts. What goes around, comes around, Hitler can tell you from his Berlin bunker. Evil flourishes for a day, sometimes a terribly long and anguished day, but the day passes. Life will not tolerate chaos interminably. Order returns. Peace breaks out. As surely as Easter follows Good Friday.
Of course, it doesn't just happen, deus ex machina. God manages human affairs through humans. Pharaoh has Moses. The Axis yields to the Allies. The Iron Curtain rusts away in the fresh rain of human freedom. Radical Islamic terrorism will wither in the sunlight of the modern world's contempt. Like my mother's favorite hymn teaches us to sing: "that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet." Through you and me.
And that's the third affirmation to be made about what God it is that Christians believe in: One who is in this world with us, in the struggles of life, equipping us with the grace and the freedom to do what is right and good and true. It is the Gospel's bravest and surest certainty: Jesus lives. After death. After the cross. After evil's deepest wound. With us and in us. The God of infinite power and everlasting righteousness, who will see "justice roll down like waters and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream," is also the God committed to life, human life. As the Good Shepherd declared about the human flock, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." That's the God Christians believe in.
Those who long to die for God have it all wrong. The Lord of life wants us to live for him and to open our arms for him to embrace a hurting world... to overcome evil with good.