This past week the news and many our conversations and prayers have been concerned with what can only be described as a massacre occurring in Aurora, Colorado. As rational beings whose anxiety is reduced when threats are understood, as religious beings who seek to trust in a God who protects, we as Why? How did this evil come into our world? Is God present? Is there a similar threat to me and mine? Should laws be changed? Should my behavior be changed?
Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, eminent mathematician, scientist and theologian has responded to the question of theodicy that rises at times like this. That is, If God is good, why is there evil in the world? Rev. Polkinghorne addresses the question by discussing the relationship between evolution and cancer.
He asserts that the mechanism, given from the hand of the Creator, which has made possible the evolution of life from single cell to humanity is that of cell mutation. And it has been this inherent potential of cells to (seemingly) randomly introduce changes from one generation into the next which has brought about the great diversity of live, including humanity.
But this same potentiality of spontaneous mutation is also the source of cancer, with all of its threat, loss and pain. That which has brought us into being as a species is also that which threatens our being and well-being as individuals.
I think Rev. Dr. Polkinghorne’s wisdom applies the event in Colorado as well. Not that James Holmes’ actions stemmed from cancer, but that their source of mental malfunction, of moral failing was his very human brain, an organ more complex than stars and planets, more plastic than the clouds, more mysterious than quantum physics. An organ capable not only of such tragic malfunction but also of creative genius, of seeing beyond assumptions, of perceiving reality in completely new ways, even of understanding space and time as curved and flexible. In other words, we do not get minds of the “Einstein’s” without also getting those of the “Holmes’” as well. Life-saving genius and life-robbing madness are the twin potentials of the human mind. Neither is going away.
So what are we to do? Two things—one public, one personal. Continue to create systems—laws, schools, community programs, agencies, etc. that encourage the development of our “better selves.” Using our common resources to develop strong senses of identity and altruism, of the advantages of community, cooperation and compromise. Toning down—for we’ll never delete it—our culture’s overly-strong sense of individualism, competition and tribalism.
On a personal level, to recognize that the same potentials of blessing and curse, of genius and insanity, to various degrees reside within us as well, and to look to our own behavior. Yes, of course, very, very few of us will either develop a revolutionary understanding of reality for science as Einstein or will visit such evil and suffering on others as Holmes. But all of us are capable of both healing or hurtful words and deeds. All of us are capable of creating caring relationships with others—even “enemies—as wells as alienating others—even family and friends.
The question will remain—Why?
Let three more rest with us as well:
Who have we become as a people?
What sort of person am I today?
Who will I and we choose to be?