Pure Evil Remembered

It has been one year today, and it’s not a whole lot easier to comment on now. I’m talking about the Utøya massacre in Norway, of course, which shocked the world last summer.

My 15-year old cousin Benedichte was one of the victims of this senseless killing. While I never really got to know her that well (being 16 years apart and living in different countries), her family is my family, and I do share their grief, even if my life seems safe and secure in the neighbouring country to the south. I haven’t been to Norway since, and I don’t want to meddle. But in more subtle ways the events have affected me, as they have affected everyone else.

In the months following last year’s events, I would imagine being there in my dreams. Seeing it mentioned on the news (which has happened frequently during the highly covered court trial this spring) still gives me that knot in my stomach. As does writing this post.

With a few exceptions, I haven’t been going regularly to church since then. I’m not saying that this is the only or main reason, but it may have been the mule that broke the camel’s back. At first, it was cause for not seeing other people in that setting, which then opened our eyes to the fact that by not going to that particular church we weren’t really missing anything. Have I lost my faith? No, not quite. Well…

Last year, Lars commented that he didn’t care about the Why of Breivik’s ideology and message, but that he did care about the Why of Why did this happen? And I agree that we shouldn’t focus on the killer’s agenda. But we have to wrestle with the other Why, as people have done in all generations of this earth. The Why of theodicy: the universal problem of evil, especially in the light of a supposedly all-powerful God. The most ancient book of the Bible (Job) tackles this exact question. And no crystal-clear and universal answers are given, neither here nor throughout history. So while any attempt that I make is bound to be insufficient, I still have to try.

Explaining evil

In an op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday, the foreign minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre, wrote that “ideology can never fully explain why specific groups or individuals commit unimaginable acts.” That’s right. Ideology cannot explain evil. The only possible explanation for evil that makes sense to me is that of the Devil. Mind you, not a guy in red tights holding a pitch-fork. But a wise and cunning malefactor unlike any the world has ever seen, sowing seeds of devilry (literally) in every person alive.

But if God then is good and omnipotent, why doesn’t he do something? There are several responses to this, neither which are fully satisfactory.

1. He can’t, or he won’t. This obviously means that God is either not omnipotent, or not good, or neither. Not really my kind of deity.

2. He has – Jesus has shown us a new way of love and reconciliation, and it’s up to Christians to bring healing to the world. Well, excuse me, but where have you been the last 2,000 years? Clearly, this strategy is not working, and we’re nowhere near any realisation of this dream. I’m all for people wanting to making the world a better place, incrementally. But perfect – I don’t believe it. “Open debate is our strongest tool in standing up to extremism,” writes Støre. If that’s true, we’re doomed. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think it can change fundamentally without divine intervention.

3. He has, and he will – Jesus claimed victory over sin on the cross, but we’re still waiting for his return to do the final cleanup and make all well again. This is the Adventist world-view that I was brought up with, and which is still at the heart of my faith. But the nagging questions linger: When? Why wait so long? I’ve got no good answers to those.

In the meantime

Which is why Støre’s remarks do make sense after all. Because for all our sensemaking, and all our eschatological beliefs, we still have to live in this world. And we have to keep on living, in spite of seemingly senseless evils.

Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, said today in his eulogy: “22 July shall forever be tied to those who lost their lives. Those we have lost will never come back, but we must remember them with gratitude. Again and again we must share images of unity and warmth, remember the dreams they carried, and tell the stories with joy. We must learn to remember the lives they lived more than the moment of death.”

My cousin’s last words were spoken on her mobile phone: “No matter what happens, Mummy. Remember that I love you.” Love wins. It’s hard to see sometimes. But I sure do hope it’s true.


Author: Kenneth Mollerup Birch

Living north of Copenhagen, Denmark. MA in Information Science. Interests include communication, internet, sociology, language, politics, religion, theology, travel, music, and food.

2 thoughts on “Pure Evil Remembered”

  1. “How long, o Lord?” is one of the world’s greatest mysteries. When things are falling apart around us, even though the promises were laid before us, we cannot help raising that question again (if we’re honest). I’m grateful that at least the Biblical narrative, while it doesn’t fully answer it, owns up to the weight of that question. (Psalm 13; Habakkuk 1; Revelation 6:10) As Christians, we’re not sparred from being troubled by this question. Even so, Paul says, ‘do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.’ (1 Thess 4:13)

  2. Hey Kenneth, I read your blog and I like it. Randomly came across it as I searched for Godly reasons for why such a thing like Utøya could possibly happen… I am from Norway grew up 2 hrs distance from Utøya.i like you am christian and i dwell on the question daily. now working in a hospital with cancer is not making the issue any lighter. I need to develop my faith to God and commit fully to find some answers. Anyway its nice to “meet” you. I wish you all the best for your blog.

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