History has a way of provoking life’s most basic questions, sometimes with deadly force. Standing beside ruins and devastation, newscasters daily relay horrors. As harsh realities take hold, the irrepressible “why?” often surfaces in the mind of the beholder. Occasionally, even international conscience is so aroused as to ask “why?”
Yet in reality, the question of “why?” in a violent act, as painful as such a mindless atrocity can be, is nevertheless meaningless to raise unless we also ask the question of life itself—why are we here? But alas! that question is dismissed as no longer relevant in an academically sophisticated culture. Is this not, then, a self-destructive contradiction for one who debunks the notion of objective morality? Those who reduce the world to merely the physical cheat when they stray into the metaphysical.
In stark distinction, it is here once again that God beckons with his pleas to a morally deaf world. Granted, the questions raised come from two groups. The deep and private pain of those for whom the loss is personal and devastating cannot be simplistically addressed. For them there is one who speaks from a cross. But there is another side to this query, and that is in understanding how and why hatred and murder can be conceived and nurtured in the human heart in the first place.
Interestingly enough, the very first murder in the Bible did not occur because of two irreconcilable political theories. The murder of a man by his own brother was an act unmistakably borne out of their differing responses to God. Trapped by the temporal, Cain was deluded by the belief that he could vanquish spiritual reality with brute force. God saw the inevitable result of the jealousy and hatred deep within Cain’s heart, and in a challenge that would determine his destiny, warned him to deal with it. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).
There are only two options: either come to God on his terms and find our perfect peace in his acceptance of us, or play God with self-defining morality and kill—becoming as a result restless wanderers, ever running from the voice of our brothers’ blood that cries out from the ground. At its core life is sacred and of inestimable value, whether it is the life of a darling child in the fresh blossom of childhood, or the life of an elderly, weak, and frail recluse. Both have one thing in common: they are made in the image of God. That is why murder is described in Scripture for what it is, an attack upon God’s image—a denial of our spiritual essence. It is that essence which gives us our dignity and our worth. It is that essence which is our glory and true home.
We may try by intellectual duplicity to rearrange the furniture of life and define it only in material terms, but each time we sit back and read of the human experience in Darfur or Virginia, Bosnia or Rwanda, we shift and turn with revulsion, realizing that there is no harmony in the secular “decor,” for the cry within of the sacred cannot be suppressed. That is the reason we scream forth “why?” at the headlines: we cannot silence the still, small voice inside that speaks of the intrinsic sanctity of life, and that it ought not to be violated.
Try as we will, the logical outworking of a denied absolute cannot be escaped. God said it to Cain then and God says it to us now. “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door, and desires to have you.” Cain became a murderer because he willfully refused to worship the living God and chose, by violence, to enthrone himself. This is an aspect of modern society we have grossly underestimated, and in the process we have robbed ourselves of even common sense. God is not only the Creator who defines us philosophically, but God is also the Provider who meets us existentially in our greatest need and gives us the confidence and comfort that we are beloved and not orphaned in this world.
If we are to ever find an answer to the haunting problem of violence, there will need to be a radical shift in our understanding. We must recognize not only the seen, but also the reality of the unseen, for the latter precedes the former. We would do well to take note that long before headlines hit like explosives in our minds, an even greater implosion takes place in the minds and hearts of those who set the news in motion. Human rule cannot deal with that internal devastation, but God can. That “unseen” war is a spiritual struggle—the choice between turning to God or playing God. For that triumph only God is big enough, and the sooner we realize and acknowledge our need the closer we will be to moving from the symptomatic rearranging of furniture to the cure of coming home.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.