Yes it's all overwhelming and I'm not sure I believe that my little attempts at peace-building really do make much of a difference. Are we just a violent and aggressive race? If we didn't have sophisticated weapons would we simply fight with sticks and stones. It was while struggling with these questions that I came across an article in Thinking Faith, the Jesuit on-line journal. It was about a theologian who also struggled with these questions.
The article, written by Fr Roger Dawson SJ, tells the story of Johann Baptist Metz, a 16-year-old consript in the German Army who was sent to the front near the Rhine in an infantry company of youths of a similar age. One evening, he was sent with a message to Battalion headquarters; he returned the next morning to find that his company of over a hundred had been overrun in the night by an Allied bomber attack and an armoured assault. He said, ‘I could see now only dead and empty faces, where the day before I had shared childhood fears and youthful laughter. I remember nothing but a wordless cry’.
Metz became one of the great 20th century theologians. He remained haunted by the memory and by this question: ‘What would happen if one took this not to the psychologist, but into the Church … and if one would not allow oneself to be talked out of such memories even by theology?’ What if we wanted to keep faith with such memories – ‘dangerous memories’, he calls them – and with them speak about God?
Metz encourages us, as do all the major world faiths, to recognise the brokeness in human beings, their capacity for greed, power, selfishness, their fear and suspicion of others, their ability to hate and do violence to others. We have to live out our faith not just with the best, but with the worst of humanity. We cannot run from the memory of events such as the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocides of Rwanda, the battlefields of Afghanistan, the carnage of Syria, the shadows of Auschwitz, and many many more horrors. These evils are ours, they reside in the human heart and it's only in acknowledging them will we be free of them.
For Metz, however, war and evil do not have the last word. As the article says, the resurrection of Jesus guarantees that love is more powerful than death, that good ultimately is more powerful than evil, that life and love are more powerful than war. It's this vision of hope that religion offers us. It's to believe in the ultimate goodness of God and the universe in spite of appearances to the contrary. But it requires solidarity with and action on behalf of those who suffer and those whose hope is most endangered. Metz's theology is one which allows the realities of evil to confront a triumphant or complacent society with the injustice and victims that that society has created - and to call them to transform it.