G. K. Chesterton once remarked that “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” Every day we see decisive evidence of the reality of sin and evil, and sometimes it is just too horrific to even contemplate.
But we also find acts of human kindness and self-sacrifice that can also leave us speechless. In times of war we certainly see courageous self-sacrifice, but in peace time we also find this. In terms of making sense of all this, it seems to me that the Judeo-Christian worldview offers the best and most plausible explanation of both great goodness and great evil.
Because we are image bearers of a good and loving God, we too can reflect some of this goodness and love even as fallen human beings. But because we are fallen and sinful, we are also capable of appalling evil and depravity. Examples of both can easily be come by in the daily news.
Therefore let me illustrate a case of each, first with a brief story of human kindness and generosity. This is a somewhat older story, but I just came upon it today:
When 90-year-old Florida resident Arnold Abbott said following his arrest on Sunday that police couldn’t stop him from feeding the homeless, he apparently meant it. Abbott was charged again on Wednesday night for violating a new city law in Ft. Lauderdale that essentially prevents people from feeding the homeless. “I expected it” he said in a Sun Sentinel report. “At least this time they let us feed people first.”
Officers lingered in the area for about 45 minutes during which time Abbott and volunteers with the Love Thy Neighbor charity he founded handed out more than 100 plates of hot chicken stew, pasta, cheesy potatoes and fruit salad to homeless men and women. If he’s found guilty of violating city ordinance laws — his second in a week — he faces 60 days in jail or a $500 fine. Abbott said he’s prepared to go to jail over his efforts. “Why do I keep doing this?” he asked rhetorically. “Because these are my people and they deserve to be fed.”
Bless you sir. But in contrast to this there is a recent series of reports out of America discussing one of the most diabolical and deplorable cases of evil you will ever come across. I draw upon three news items from the Albuquerque Journal from August and September of this year. Let me simply quote from the three (warning, graphic content):
It’s a crime that has left the community reeling in disbelief. What, people wondered, could be worse than a mother accused of standing by as her boyfriend and another woman drugged, raped and killed her 10-year-old daughter? But on Thursday, court records detailed even more of the unimaginable.
Officers arrived at the Northwest Albuquerque apartment near Golf Course and Irving around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday and found a cloud of smoke wafting from the bathroom. Young Victoria Martens’ dismembered body was burning in the bathtub, half-wrapped in a blanket. Parts of her body were found in a plastic bag in a laundry hamper, and the floor of her bedroom was stained with blood.
Three people, including the girl’s mother, are accused in the killing. Victoria’s mother, Michelle Martens, 35, faces multiple charges including child abuse resulting in great bodily harm or death, along with her new boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, 31, and his cousin Jessica Kelley, 31, who had just been released from prison. Both Martens and Gonzales told investigators they met only about a month ago on a dating website. Gonzales told reporters and police that he wasn’t involved in the crime, putting the blame on Kelley.
But Martens told investigators that she watched as Gonzales and Kelley injected Victoria with methamphetamine “to calm her down” so they could both sexually assault her. She said Gonzales then strangled her and Kelley stabbed her.
The two of them dismembered the girl’s body, according to Martens’ statement to police. “This homicide is the most gruesome act of evil I have ever seen in my career,” said Police Chief Gorden Eden. It’s “a complete disregard of human life and betrayal by a mother.”
Albuquerque police spokesman Tanner Tixier choked up as he said the girl’s body was so mutilated that investigators are not sure how she died. They believe she died either from the strangulation or stab wounds, but are waiting for an autopsy to be completed.
The scene Wednesday morning in apartment number 808 of the Arroyo Villas complex was like something out of a horror movie. A man and a woman had allegedly drugged a little girl, then raped, killed and dismembered her. Most would expect the girl’s mother to fight with everything she had to save her daughter. But Michelle Martens, according to her own reported account to police, is not that kind of mother.
In her statement to police, it appears that Martens wanted to watch as her boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, 31, and his cousin Jessica Kelley, 31, raped her 10-year-old daughter Victoria Martens before killing her and trying to dispose of her body. A detective detailed Martens’ account in a criminal complaint filed against Kelley, who had been hospitalized for two days after she jumped from a balcony of the northwest Albuquerque apartment trying to flee from officers. She was transferred to jail Friday morning.
In the complaint, Martens, 35, told police that she watched Gonzales and Kelley sexually assault Victoria for her own “sexual gratification” after the pair had injected the girl with methamphetamine. “… Michelle stood by and watched as Fabian strangled (Victoria),” a detective wrote in the complaint. “Michelle then watched as Jessica stabbed (Victoria) in the torso with a knife.”
Nearly a dozen search warrants obtained by the Journal offer new details about alleged repeated abuse by Michelle Martens, above, of her daughter. The violent sexual attack that ended Victoria Martens’ life apparently was not the first time she was raped. The 10-year-old’s mother, Michelle Martens, told police she had allowed other men to sexually assault her daughter and said she had sought out the men online and at work. She told police she had set up encounters with at least three. One of them was a co-worker. Two others she met online, including Fabian Gonzales, 31. He was to be the last.
That’s because Gonzales is accused, along with Martens and Gonzales’ cousin, Jessica Kelley, of killing and dismembering the little girl in one of the most gruesome crimes in Albuquerque history. Martens, 35, told police she didn’t do it for the money. She set up the sexual assaults because she enjoyed watching. Martens’ statement to police is included in nearly a dozen search warrants obtained by the Journal. Investigators sought DNA evidence from the suspects, as well as multiple electronic devices and a camcorder they believed may have been used for sexual exploitation of children….
Martens said she watched Kelley hold Victoria down while Gonzales raped and strangled her. Kelley then stabbed her, and she and Gonzales dismembered her body and set her on fire in the bathtub, according to the court records. Witnesses said that around 4:30 a.m., Martens and Gonzales went to neighbors and said they had been attacked by Kelley. Martens said her daughter was still in the apartment. Neighbors called police, who found the grisly scene.
Investigators are looking into whether Martens ever videotaped or photographed the sexual assaults. They seized a camcorder and nine minidiscs, five smartphones, a thumb drive, iPod, cellphone, tablet and Kindle. “In my training and experience, those who are interested in the sexual exploitation of children are also interested in exploiting images of children for sexual gratification,” an officer wrote in one of the search warrant affidavits.
This is so shocking and hard to digest. It is really too damning and numbing for words. There certainly is no way one can pretend that evil does not exist in the world after reading accounts like that. Yes there is a malevolent spiritual being known as the devil, yes there is such a thing as evil, and yes sinful people can do really horrific things.
The atheist account of both evil and goodness just does not cut it here. Recall the famous words of Richard Dawkins on such matters as an example:
Theologians worry away at the ‘problem of evil’ and a related ‘problem of suffering.’ … On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies… are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature. Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
In other words, ‘Crap just happens, so get used to it’. Sorry, that neither explains anything nor gives us any moral closure. The biblical worldview does both however. It accounts for such great acts of evil, and it also reminds us that we live in a moral universe with moral laws given to us by a moral law giver. All wrong will be judged and properly dealt with.
Read the comments from concerned readers under these three news items: these folks are rightly outraged and many are demanding swift action and reprisals. Many said these three should be killed instantly and they should rot in hell. I can feel their burning anger and sense of justice on this.
But the Christian seeks to do two things here. He does indeed pray for justice, and life imprisonment in this world is certainly part of it, but there will be eternal judgment as well to be faced. However, as hard as it may be, we also pray for these three individuals who have committed such hideous crimes.
We pray that even with their hardened hearts they might see that God still exists, and there is a way out of their hellish world via faith and repentance. Yes, it is hard to pray for the Hitlers and Stalins of this world, and for these three people. But that we must do.
We seek God’s mercy, but we also rejoice in his just justice. And in the face of such horrendous evil, sometimes the only thing we can pray is, “Come quickly Lord Jesus”.