Mennonite Mission Network held its fourth annual Sent gathering April 26-28 in Denver, Colorado. After two days of fellowship, testimony and teaching, the conference closed with worship at Beloved Community Mennonite Church, our host congregation. Located in Englewood, our service marked the 20th anniversary of the mass shootings at Columbine High School, in the adjacent community of Littleton. Two church members—parents of a child who lost a friend in the tragedy—recounted, through tears, the terror of that day. They testified to the presence of evil in our world.
The father’s account went something like this:
Since the Enlightenment, we have been taught to discount the reality of spiritual phenomena. After Columbine, and every mass shooting, we seek to isolate factors that might explain such random killing—but to no satisfactory conclusion. In the end, we are left to acknowledge the presence of evil in our world.
Then came the kicker:
If we say that God is beyond ourselves to do through us the good, then evil is a power beyond ourselves to do through us the bad.
The father’s words rang true to me. Having lived in South Africa, among people who acknowledged the influence of personal spirits on human behavior, references to invisible forces readily catch my attention. I understand why we might hesitate to ascribe human actions to evil. I understand that some persons speak of evil to evade responsibility for what they did or left undone. In terms of God, I understand the danger of attributing to the Holy Spirit that which others may experience as our own misuse of power. Yet none of these reflect the father’s meaning.
In this case, the acknowledgment of evil was the humanization of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris —flesh-and-blood children belonging to flesh-and-blood parents—who were overcome by evil. In this case, the recognition of evil serves the cause of love. Through it, the parents of victims extend grace to parents as victims. Indeed, in her testimony, the mother expressed sympathy for Susan Klebold, who has spoken publicly of the torment both of losing her own son and facing the fact of his participation in such monstrous violence.
Finally, as implied in the father’s testimony, the presence of evil points to the reality of God. This presence causes us to ask a disturbing question: Do we truly believe that God is Power beyond our power? Paul told the Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). If we’re to do that, we’ll need to ask and make room for the Spirit of God in our lives, the life of Christ who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).