There is a horribly familiar feeling about the news from Manchester. Shocked but not surprised is perhaps the feeling. We are shocked by the horror of what happened, we grieve for the families whose future will be so very different from what they hoped, full of compassion for those who suffer. But not surprised. We knew something like this would happen again soon. We didn’t know where or when, but we did, somewhere in the back of our minds, know it would happen.
I’ve been thinking about those who suffer, and I’ve been thinking too of the wonderful compassion of the people of Manchester, whose kindness to those who needed help has done so much to make this more than a simply story of tragedy. I heard an American news reporter tell CNN that in all the terrorist atrocities she has covered, she has never seen goodness like it. Police and news reporters being given sandwiches and drinks by locals, people put up in hotels without question, people being welcomed into the houses of strangers, everyone sharing the common humanity in a time when one man showed none.
My thoughts have also been turning to him. What was going through his mind, as he strapped bombs to himself, as he did up his coat and went to a venue full of excited happy children? Was he full of hate, or anger, or triumph, as he ended both his own life and the lives of innocents? Was he mentally ill? Well of course he was. No-one in their right mind kills children.
There is a common thread to many of these mass-killings, whether it is terrorism, or the sort of right-wing ideology put forward by the murderer of Jo Cox a year ago, or Andreas Brevik in Norway, or indeed the mass-shootings in American schools. Despite the huge variations in ideology and politics, there is a single common thread which unites these murderers – a sense of vengence. Vengence which is turned into malice by self-righteousness That self-righteousness is a corrosive, malicious feeling. It hides our own darker nature from us, and gives us a confidence in our own conscience which nurses evil and feeds it.
Whenever I hear the word “vengence” my mind goes to Pulp Fiction, and to Samuel L Jackson’s character, who used Ezekiel 25 to make himself feel justified and powerful before he ended lives. Vengence is mine, saith the Lord.
But that quotation, like so many in the bible, says the opposite of what some think it means. “vengence is mine” says the Lord – and again and again the scriptures of all religions say that means that vengence does not belong to humans, but to God. Only God, all-knowing and all loving, can have that judgement. To presume to know the mind of God to the extent of ending life is not just mistaken, but is a blasphemy.
Some in the media, Katie Hopkins being the most brutal example, have felt that the best response to vengence is more vengence. She calls for a “final solution”. I dont’ know if she is frightened or whether she, like the terrrorist, simply enjoys the self-righteous passion which floods through her veins as she becomes more angry and outraged. But the lesson we must learn from both the terrorist is that vengence always, always, makes everything worse.
The Ezekiel quotation which was used in Pulp Fiction also says “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.“
Our purpose, our task is not vengence, but to do charity and good will. And while the murderer sought to divide and fragement our society by his evil actions, the people of Manchester have truly become their brothers’ keepers and the finder of lost children. They, and not the shrill voices of revenge, have shown us the way. They have resonded to the worst of humanity with the best of what we are. And I pray God’s mercy that we can stay on that path.