On Suffering and Hope: Boston Bombings on Israel’s Day of Remembrance

At the finish line of a marathon, vulnerability and personal achievement mingle with sweat, tears and embraces. The culmination of a race affirms life. Many marathoners exemplified this by raising funds to donate to worthy causes. In this life-affirming setting, we were reminded once again that evil raises its ugly head in the most unwelcome moments.

In a free society, we cannot eliminate all evil acts. And from a theological viewpoint, God gives us free will. To eliminate all evil would mean to eliminate life, echoing C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain who said “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself”. Evil on a small or large scale, from the seedbed of thoughts and intentions to fully formed actions, can be traced back to a free agent turning away from God. SIN.

Now enter, HOPE. Once again an evil act has prompted an overwhelming response of goodness. People in the Boston area are offering their spare rooms, couches, food, cars, and even their own beds to visitors stranded by the bombings. Among the outpourings of compassion, a six-year-old girl who lost a leg would have died if not for the heroic efforts of a first-responder.
Familiar with the pain and suffering caused by terrorist bombings, the nation of Israel paused for two minutes at the sound of a siren, stopping their cars and exiting their vehicles, to stand in honor of their fallen. The Boston attack happened on the day when Israel was mourning her more than 23,000 who have died so that Israel can freely celebrate 65 years of independence. Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day, Yom Hazikaron, takes place the day before Independence Day when the country breaks out in celebration. The abrupt change in atmosphere between the two days is remarkable and distinctly Israeli.

From the rise of the neo-Nazi Svoboda party in Ukraine to Jewish school shootings in France, anti-Semitism is still present. According to a report by Tel Aviv University and the European Jewish Congress, anti-Semitic attacks increased by thirty percent in the past year. Abraham Heschel calls racism “man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.

We lived in a part of the world where this brand of virulent hatred led to unspeakable atrocities. On a gorgeous spring day in Kiev a few years ago, Mike and I visited Babi Yar where nearly 34,000 Jewish men, women, and children were massacred in one day. They were marched in small groups to the outskirts of the city, ordered to strip naked, and then machine-gunned into the ravine. But on that sunny day when we visited, families were enjoying an afternoon stroll when a group of Jews gathered near the memorial to place stones of remembrance. As we sat beside the grass-covered ravine, a young girl who was with us quietly said, “I am Jewish. I was afraid to tell you because some people don’t like Jews. My grandmother told me I should not tell anyone.” We told her, “We love Jewish people and we love you. Most of all, God loves Jewish people. We think it is wonderful that you are Jewish.” She smiled.

In the aftermath of the bombings in Boston and as we pause to remember the victims in parts of the world where violence and hatred have been all too common, we can be comforted by this hope: Good conquers evil and love conquers all. It is simple, but costly. Jesus paid the greatest price, dying on the cross for our sins so we can enter into His resurrection life and have hope today and for eternity when every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more sorrow and pain.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)


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