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Absolute suffering and absolute love

10 April 2015

EASTER challenges us all on the problem of evil. The Easter proclamation is that the world is redeemed. But it is left to us to work out what redemption looks like, especially when evil seems to have the upper hand.

I have found myself thinking a lot about Andreas Lubitz, and what made him crash his plane, with such appalling consequences, on the Tuesday of Passion Week. I understand the tendency to seek a bureaucratic focus for blame: the possibly inadequate checks on pilots' capacity to fly; the confidentiality that prevented Mr Lubitz's doctors from warning his employers. It is comforting for us to be able to say that the system failed, and could be corrected if we tried harder.

But the evil temptation that overcame Mr Lubitz was surely both banal and subtle. He was both perpetrator and victim of his crime. Christian realism insists that there is a reality of evil, and it easily intertwines with human personality; it plays on our vulnerabilities, prodding us always in the direction of catastrophe. Evil usually offers a short cut, a dramatic and premature exit from the struggle for integrity to which we are called.

Easter speaks to the victims of the crash, and to the bereaved, with the difficult but ultimately life-giving hope that death is not the last word. Christ has conquered; love has won. Nothing and no one is finally lost. This is hard in an age when so many have given up on any hope of life beyond death. There is an aching injustice in Mr Lubitz's deed which perhaps only the Easter message can alleviate.

We must extend our hope to Mr Lubitz too, but with the awareness that the promise is inextricably linked with judgment. He may have sought oblivion in the mountainside crash, but he is still a creature; a beloved child of the God of love. Redemption for him is no escape from the nightmares of the mind; indeed, the therapy of God's love must require him to face up to what he did.

Some, of course, will believe that the person who was Mr Lubitz is now in hell, for ever beyond the love and mercy of God. But Easter will not let us stop there. Easter, as the Orthodox say, is, simply is, the forgiveness of sins. It is not nonsensical to imagine that the therapy that Mr Lubitz both sought and evaded on earth is now held out to him by God. He will have had to confront the face of God, the face of absolute suffering and absolute love. We do not know whether his final encounter with reality annihilates him, or initiates a slow and perhaps agonising process of redemption.

At Easter, truth and love are one - for us, as well as for him. Redemption is freedom, but also justice.

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