An Open Letter to the New York Times Editorial Board: Maybe there is a “why” to evil and ISIS?

The Times editorial board and some of its columnists have no explanation for the evil splashed across the internet and the pages of their own newspaper. But the kids in our church and the people in Rwanda do. What does it mean when your worldview cannot account for the real world?


From “The Fundamental Horror of ISIS” 10-2-14:
“Comparisons are meaningless at this level of evil, as are attempts to explain the horror by delving into the psychology or rationale of the perpetrators…as Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist, wrote in a recent piece about ISIS, there is no “why” in the heart of darkness.” —New York Times Editorial Board  (“Yet, in the end, there is no why to the barbarism of ISIS. There is no why in Raqqa. Evil may adduce reasons; they fall short.”–Cohen)

Dear Editorial Board,

I commend your admission that none of the usual subjects can explain the YouTubed beheadings, the systematic rape of women and cutting to pieces of children. Neither poor education, nor economics, nor a lack of enlightenment—none of it suffices. This is, as you put it in your editorial, “raw evil.”

I also applaud the fact that you have more or less admitted to the existence of an “evil empire,” or at least an evil wanna-be empire, something you sort of rolled your eyes at when Reagan said it of Soviet Russia. (I wonder if you would say it of Putin’s Russia today.)

But, when it comes to your claim that there is no “why” behind the “fundamental horror of ISIS,” with all due respect, I wish to disagree.

There is an explanation. This question that confounds you has an answer known by millions of children across America, including many attending our own Kidszone at our church.

They don’t know much about psychology or the historical/political/religious reasons “adduced by ISIS.” But they love Jesus. And they believe what he said about Satan:

“The devil was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

He is desperate to hide the truth. “When the Word is preached the devil comes along and takes the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). And those who do believe, like Peter, Satan demands to have, to sift like wheat. (Luke 22:31)

He inflicts disease and disability on us (Luke 13:16). He comes to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10) He sows bad seed, sons and daughters who are of him and whose will is to do their father’s desires (John 8:44).

The children in our Kidszone believe that Satan is real. They believe that behind unthinkable acts of evil is an unthinkably evil angelic being. Brilliant. Crafty. Deceiving. Manipulating. Powerful. Masquerading as an angel of light. Until he shows his horrifically evil, murderous heart. He enters people (like he entered Judas Iscariot) to annihilate what is good, true and beautiful.

This is the record of what Jesus said about him. And as CS Lewis said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” That’s what the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day believed. They believed he was aligned with the “Prince of Demons.”

If our worldview has no answers for the “why” behind this kind of evil, then, and I apologize for sounding presumptuous, I’m just a beggar pointing the way to the bread I found, perhaps it’s a good opportunity to question the fundamental assumptions of your worldview? We all want a worldview that is coherent, that accounts for and makes sense of the world as we find it, not as we wish it would be. If this evil exists it must be grounded in something. It didn’t just appear like a bolt out of the blue.

I cannot read about the evil of ISIS without thinking of the similarities to the evil let loose in Rwanda. On a radio show I hosted we interviewed Peter Holmes, assistant to Emmanuel Kolini, the archbishop of Rwanda. When they interviewed the Hutus afterwards and asked them why they picked up their machetes and began chopping up their Tutsi friends and neighbors, many described their motivation this way:

“It was as if we were taken over by Satan. When Satan is using you, you lose your mind. We were not ourselves. Beginning with me. I don’t think I was normal.” “I don’t know what came over me.” Many went into “deep and profound shock and for years afterward they loathed the time they committed such atrocities.” (Christ Walks Where Evil Reigned, p.98)

That witness is an alignment with what Jesus said. A powerful force from outside them seemed to enter into them, block their reason, unnaturally suppress their compassion and carry them along, not just to commit murder but terrific torture as well. You have pointed to Rwanda and claimed that there is no “why” for the genocide there either. So how do you respond to these witnesses?

When we see the “fundamental horror” of such evil we long for justice. For someone to make it right. Why would we have deep longings for something that doesn’t exist? Another question to consider: Does your worldview offer an explanation for our longing for justice or the hope of any final reckoning for evil?

Jesus said a few more things about the devil. And his children. He hears the cries of the raped women and murdered children. And he promises a final reckoning:

As Jesus headed to the cross he acknowledged Satan as, “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 12:31). “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 14:30-31).

Our sin was poured out on Jesus on the cross, where Satan was judged and condemned as well. Jesus rose again to eternal life, but a time of horrific punishment awaits his enemies.

Jesus said the devil’s children will be gathered by God’s reaper angels and be burned in a fiery furnace, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41), where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:39-42).

For any who believe in him, confess their sin and receive his forgiveness, Jesus gives the gift of eternal life (John 3:16). He will wipe all the tears from their eyes and make all things new. He will make his home with them forever.

You ignore (and dismiss?) the wisdom of Jesus on these pages. Yet Jesus offers a worldview, a story that accounts for the “why” of evil. And destroys and punishes evil. And offers an unimaginably good compensation and restoration to the victims. A story so philosopically and theologically sophisticated that we can never fathom all its complexity and transcendence. Yet simple enough that the kids at Kidszone get it. That is why we love him.

In the light of these realities maybe his words offer wisdom that you have overlooked.

Lael Arrington

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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