I was told something today that I found incredibly sad; sad in a way that I'm not sure what to do with it, sad in a way that I am unsure can be healed. It brought home to me today what evil is and what it can do, how it can insinuate itself into anything and corrupt it and leave you helpless before it. That is, I suppose, the mystery of evil; something that you can't solve and can't heal, something that you know is wrong but can do nothing about because there is no way to undo what has been done, no way to heal it or repair the damage. It stands before you a sordid mess that spoils life and corrupts whatever it touches and darkens the life of whoever sees it.
What can you do to solve the riddle evil makes of life? What can you do to make things better? Sometimes there is nothing you can do, you can only stand before it and wonder at the depth of evil. And that is not a good place to stand, but it comes up in life every now and again.
There is another evil that we stand before and strangely it brings salvation. We stand before the cross of Christ, and see there too an evil that cannot be undone, but there the mystery of evil is overtaken by the mystery of love. We stand before the cross and look upon the evil we are capable of, but it does not bring the same sadness or emptiness that the corruption of evil brings, because there is something different about the evil we see in the cross. The difference is in the resurrection. We look on the cross in the light of the resurrection and that changes what we see. No longer do we feel the hopelessness of evil, the all corrupting power of evil, rather we see a love that was not destroyed by evil, a love that was not corrupted by it. And we can only stand and look, we need to take time to stand and look.
This year the ashes of Lent will take on a new meaning for me. I will know why people once put ashes on their forehead and ripped their clothes, because when we stand before the corruption of evil we also know our own powerlessness before it, something we would rather forget or deny. But we need to mourn the power of evil and what it does; we need to acknowledge its power in our world today, as it seems to advance. Perhaps I’ve lived too privileged a life, perhaps I have been kept too far from real evil. I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s too sickening to live with for long. But evil is real and it is rampant in our world and we can’t afford to deny it.
We need the cross, and we need the resurrection, we need to be able to look and see that evil doesn’t win, that for all its power there is someone greater and more loving and more merciful. We need a place of refuge where we can go when we look on evil and what it does to us and find hope again. God can’t undo the evil we do; what he does is to promise us that despite the evil that ruins and destroys lives, he will bring us life. We need to be able to stand before evil and remember the cross if we are to know any peace in this life, if we are to know life.