The terrorist attacks in Boston this week have prompted many people to ask themselves why. Why did this happen? Why would anyone do such a thing? Why would God allow an 8-year-old boy to die in such a senseless way?
Many times, tragedies like this cause people to wonder if God even exists. If God really did exist he wouldn’t allow bad things to happen to good people. Or so the argument goes.
I think the best way to respond to someone who thinks along those lines is to remind them that God never wants something like this to happen. As St. Augustine argued a long time ago, it is “man who is the cause of his own evil doing.” Not God.
These crimes take place because human beings have free will. And, not to be uncouth, but the only way they will come to an end is if God eliminates human freedom all together. Free will is the greatest blessing God bestows on us. However, it must also be understood as a doubled-edged sword. For free will allows evil men to do horrific things, yet it also allows holy men inspired by God to do good and glorious things.
Pope Francis is keenly aware of this, and he has spent a large portion of his brief pontificate reminding us about it.
In the first sermon of his papacy, Pope Francis said: “when we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”
Two days later, he urged the College of Cardinals to “not cede to the bitterness and pessimism that the devil offers us every day.”
Weeks later he argued that gossip and overly-criticizing others are “temptations of the evil one who does not want the spirit to come to us and bring about peace and meekness.”
Then, in a homily delivered in the chapel of the Vatican’s Santa Martha residence, Pope Francis stated: “calumny comes from a very evil thing: it is born of hatred. And hate is the work of Satan. Calumny destroys the work of God in people, in their souls.”
I could go on but you get the picture: Pope Francis has no fear when it comes to talking about the devil. In fact, as Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has pointed out on his blog, Pope Francis speaks about the devil “probably more often than any other pope in modern history.”
Pope Francis’ decision to speak about the devil should be welcomed by Catholics. Talking about the devil reminds us we are at war. It reminds us of Jesus, who said “I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.” It reminds us to be on guard against the snares of the devil at every turn. And it reminds us that it is not God who wishes to see tragedies like the one in Boston, but Satan. For he is the source of evil. He is the one who takes joy in the misery we experience. And, as Pope Francis has alluded to, it is he who entices people to commit these heinous, wretched crimes. May we pray not just for the victims of these diabolical attacks, but for the perpetrators as well.