(I first heard the quote in this astonishing music and you should seriously skip my homily and spend all day listening to Explosions in the Sky)
“This great evil--where's it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing this? Who's killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might have known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, aid the grass to grow and the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you too? Have you passed through this night?”
I thought of the soldier’s question because it's answered to some degree in all of these readings. The Book of Wisdom says it bluntly: “Death was not God’s doing.” So a clever person might jump on that and ask “Well if God didn’t make it how did it get here? I thought He made everything. And why doesn’t he stop it? I thought He was all-powerful.”
Which are questions that can’t be brushed aside. I don’t think anyone’s lived a human life without asking these questions in their heart, in some way. Why the suffering? Why the evil?
On one hand, it’s a comfort and consolation to know that this wasn’t God’s plan. The Christian doctrine of original sin is one of the most comforting doctrines we have: the freedom to acknowledge that the world is broken. It’s good, but it’s broken. It’s beautiful, but it’s cracked. That’s good news, because it allows us to defy evil, to stand up against the darkness with raging faith that it isn't supposed to be this way.
Death was not God’s doing. The Bible presents evil not as a competing force against good, not as an anti-God thing that somehow got made even though God didn’t make it. Rather, the Bible presents evil as sort of a hole in God’s good creation. As Aquinas said, it’s the absence of a good that ought to be there. Evil, if you think about it, is always stated as a lack of a good. God orders the world in peace; evil is the lack of it. God orders his creatures in love; evil is the lack of it. God gives life; death is the crack that interrupts it.
But the Book of Wisdom affirms that behind the brokenness of the world, we can still meet the good God whose grace shines through the cracks. “To be - for this he created all… Hades holds no power on earth, for virtue is undying.” There’s a heroic act of faith happening there. There’s a human being facing all the darkness of the world and declaring it beaten, overcome, unable to eclipse the true and the good and the beautiful.
God could have made a world without sin. Theologically, we have to believe that. God could have made a world where there was never any suffering, where there were no genocides or kidnappings or death - a world untouched by sin, God could have made it. But that world would be a world without me, and it would be a world without you. Consider this sometime in a quiet moment: God could have created perfection, but He created you instead. He chose us over a world without sin. He chose us over a world that would be perfectly harmonious and obedient. He could have made any world He wanted to make. He wanted you.
So here we are, with whatever span of life we’re given, to find the light shining through the cracks. It’s not hard to find, it’s everywhere. It’s blinding, sometimes so intense that the human heart can’t bear it. Death will have its day, but "virtue is undying."
And yet… there remains the question of what God is going to do about it. This state of affairs, this brokenness in His creation, it can’t stand forever. He will make all things well, He will draw all things to himself. And the Christian Gospels are the story of how.
Mark gives us this story, simple but profound, of Jesus of Nazareth walking among his people. This is God with us, God not thundering over us in judgment or wiping out our sin with a flood, but walking among us, getting bumped by a woman as He shuffles through the crowd, having his sleeve tugged by the scared father with a sick kid. These people will receive healing miracles, which will be a sign of His love and goodness and power. But the miracle they really need is still to come, and these healings are only a signpost pointing toward the real miracle. God did not make death, but He will overcome it. He will do it in His own flesh. He will do it for us. He could have had perfection, but He wanted us. The only question that matters after that is, do you want Him?
“This great evil--where's it come from? How'd it steal into the world? .... Is this darkness in you too? Have you passed through this night?”
There is no book of theology, no passage of the Catechism, not even a verse of Scripture that is adequate to answer that question asked by a soldier on the battlefield, or a parent at a tiny grave, or a victim of abuse. Christ answers, not with a philosophical explanation, but with love in action. When the soldier asks “have you passed through this night?,” it is Christ who can say yes. Into it, and through it, and all the way out the other side. He walks among us in all the sickness and suffering and brokenness. He could have been the Creator of a perfect world, but He’d rather be the creator of you and me. He could have been the zero-tolerance Judge who smashed everything into order from high above, but He’d rather walk among us where a sick woman, a scared father, can tug at his sleeve.
The last lines in Malick’s film are spoken by another soldier; listen to it as a prayer.
“Who were you that I lived with, walked with? The brother, the friend? Strife and love, darkness and light--are they the workings of one mind, features of the same face? Oh my soul. Let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made. All things shining.”
That’s an act of faith, the kind of faith that doesn’t come easy, but only on the other side of the horrors and the darkness. It's faith in Jesus who literally did look out through our eyes, who felt with our heart, who wept our tears and screamed out our feeling of abandonment. It’s the faith that Christ praised in the heartbroken father, the sick woman - It’s the faith we’re aiming for every time we reach out and pray as she did, “If I can just touch him, I will be well.”