All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.
That, for me, is one of the most powerful quotes in literature. It comes from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, and defines the tone of the book. No matter how bleak things get, no matter how much pain is endured, no matter how alone you feel, there remains the potential for grace and beauty, for redemption. It reminds me of the story of Pandora’s Box, a Greek legend accounting for how suffering came into the world. In that box that contained all of the world’s evils there was something else: hope.
And then I think about the Christian story of redemption, how, somehow, through the brutal execution of an innocent man, love was shown more powerfully than at any other time since the creation of the world and how, through that suffering, came hope for countless people.
I don’t know exactly why, but there is a common thread running through different times and cultures of humanity that where there is suffering, there is also hope. It seems paradoxical, laughable even, and yet generation upon generation has maintained that truth through the stories of their time.
As a Christian, this idea is central to my faith. The cross – that which should have been the ultimate symbol of defeat and humanity’s capacity for evil – instead became a symbol of victory, life and redemption. Some people think it’s odd that Christians should hold up such a brutal instrument as the symbol of their faith, but I think it’s a fitting tribute to the power of God, that even the deepest, darkest reaches of human existence can be turned to light.
One of the biggest problems that people have, in my experience, when it comes to wrestling with faith is that of the existence of evil. If God is all good and all powerful, then how can evil exist? There are many ways that this can be answered, but the truth of the matter is I don’t know exactly why things are as they are. I’m writing this in the wake of the tragedy in Paris, and the fact is that this question seems harder to answer than ever, but that is not a reason to give up.
There is a quote going round on the internet this morning from Martin Luther King Jr. that says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And I believe that the quote is true. There is darkness in the world. A lot of darkness. But I hold on to the truth at the top of this blog, that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
The powerful, challenging message of the cross is that even in the utter darkness of death, God brought light into the world, and I believe that that light lives on. The thing about darkness is that it can never destroy light, it merely fills the space where light is absent. When light and darkness are held up together, it is clear that only one has any real power.
Right now, today, there are no words that can magically make right what happened last night and what has been happening across the world for decades. It is simply not okay. The darkness is there and it cannot be explained away. What I do believe to be the truth, however, is that the darkness can be overcome, not with more darkness, but with light. And I do believe that all of this pain is not enough to extinguish the hope, grace and beauty that still live on in our world.
I know that this is not an easy thing to say right now, and maybe there are people out there who will disagree. In fact, I’m sure there are. But no matter how dark things get, I think we have to believe that hope still exists, and that even in the most painful of places, there is an opportunity for grace, and in grace, beauty. That’s the scandalous, challenging message of the cross, the tool of torture that has been turned into a beacon of hope.