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Finding love in a hopeless place

Scott Boyle | Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Just about a week ago, I stepped in for a religion teacher who needed a “pinch-hitter” for a class period one day at Roncalli, the high school to which I am assigned in Indianapolis. Confused faces turned to joy as the students 1) realized that I was not their regular teacher and 2) gave themselves permission to continue huddling up with their friends and talking. I might as well have not been in the room.

Despite these circumstances, I was still excited to be there with them. I wanted to know how things were going and what the religion curriculum at Roncalli looked like. So I spoke up: “What have you been learning about in class?” Continued chatter. It was as if no one heard me. Ooh. Bad approach, I thought to myself. Maybe I should be louder? No, won’t work, I reasoned. Maybe I should ask a question they can’t resist. I had to do something to get their attention or our time together would slowly slip out of my control. I decided to use another question instead: “I want you all to try to stump me. I want you to ask the most difficult theological question that you can think of.”

You see, I have learned two things so far at the high school about getting students to listen to you: 1) Offer candy and 2) Turn requests into competitions or challenges will always earn the rapt attention of competitive, sugar-hungry high schoolers. And when I asked that last question, all eyes immediately turned to me, then to a girl who was sitting in the front of the room. (Clearly she was the one who was supposed to ask the stumper.) After some hesitation, she mustered the courage to ask her question: “If our God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving, how can he permit things like murders, rape and natural disasters that take the lives of innocent people?” And then, as if she had challenged me to a duel to the death in which I was sure to lose, the students gleefully waited for my demise.

“Truth be told, your question is an excellent question,” I responded. “And it is an excellent question precisely because you are right to ask it. There is so much about our world and the evil in it that we do not understand. But I don’t think it is correct to conclude that the God we believe in is any less powerful, loving or knowing because of it.”

But before continuing on, I paused. I thought back to high school. I remembered asking the very same questions in a semester long course entitled: “The Question of God.” Over the course of that semester, we explored some of life’s most difficult issues and questions. We talked about 9/11, the problem of evil in the world and our response to suffering. And although I now forget the name of the documentary, I remember very clearly the Rabbi in it who shared a piece of insight I have not stopped chewing on six years later: “My task is not to give people the answers, but to help them deal with the questions.”

But on this day, in that classroom, I had a different spin on the Rabbi’s quote. So I continued on: “Perhaps the problem is not with God, but with us and the way we see the reality which he has given us. You see, I think God has given us an answer, that is, a definitive answer to evil. And that answer is Jesus Christ. But in Christ, God did not promise to take away the evils of our time. Evil, after all, had entered into the world not because of God but because of our sin, that is, Adam and Eve’s original sin.

And here was his greatest teaching: Christ showed us that evil, death, suffering, pain, confusion and doubt were never to be the last words of our story. They were to be no match for Christ’s law of love. Through his death and resurrection, Christ showed us not that we would never suffer pain, but that, in the end, it was never to have any power over us.”

And what I told those students is what we must let Christ say to us now, in the midst of our own uncertainty, in the midst of the great evils and trials within our lives. For if we open ourselves to Christ’s peace, His love will meet us and transform our fear, our doubts and our anxieties. Yes, we will suffer, sometimes inexplicably. And our world, too, will continue to suffer incalculable evils that will not make sense. But if we choose to continue to see with eyes of love, we can work towards making Christ’s love and His kingdom, not evil, the reality on Earth.

Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at sboyle2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.