In the week that began with the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, the topic of evil, its role in the world, in our lives, inevitably comes to our minds, also in context of what we wrote yesterday about the cross, which “forces us to look life in the eyes” and makes escapism impossible. Today we reproduce a fragment of the writings of Kaj Munk (1898 – 1944). He was a Danish playwright and Lutheran minister, known for his cultural engagement and his martyrdom during World War II. He is commemorated as a martyr in the Liturgical Calendar of the Lutheran Church on August 14, together with the Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe.
Frankly, we were uncertain if we should post the below fragment on our blog. Munk’s call to praise God because of evil isn’t in itself something unprecedented in the Christian tradition. On the contrary, it fits well in that tradition. Our mixed feelings don’t derive also from what he said, but rather have to do with how it may be received by a person really afflicted by evil, struggling with it, suffering because of it. Wouldn’t such a person treat it as an example of a preacher’s empty slogans? But it would be particularly unfair to describe them like that. Kaj Munk said those words probably in one of his sermons preached during the war. He was then already known as a preacher disobedient to the rulings of the Nazi authorities, willing to accept only “the censorship of the Holy Spirit”, as he put it. What he preached, he preached with the awareness of the danger that threatened him. So also these reflections on evil aren’t theoretical speculations, but a witness of someone experiencing that evil, a witness eventually sealed with martyrdom as he died murdered by Gestapo. And that is why we want to listen to his witness.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Also in life, in the life of the world, I encounter God. Everything which is authentic in it, which makes me breath deeply and freely, and open my eyes wide, is of Him. Oh, that world, which we call ours, is rich already of itself, but it is the richest because it is His. It wouldn’t speak to my heart if there wasn’t another heart beating behind it. But, a tumor, an exploding bomb and lies coming from the loudspeakers, are they also a witness about God? And how do we reconcile this with a world which is supposed to be created by God Almighty? To that question I know no answer. And, asking it, I turn to him, from whom comes everything I know. “What will you say, Lord Jesus, about evil?” And Christ answers me: “For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” There exists a sort of evil without which the world would be poor and empty. For when human will defends itself from evil with the highest effort and overcomes it, God may be sensed in that will. And also when that struggle is lost and victory may come only by forgiveness of sins. Evil may purify people, may make them stronger. Praise God because of evil, for without evil we would be worth no more than a flock of ducks in a pond.
Source: Kaj Munk, “Eerbied voor U. Teksten voor elke dag”, Baarn 2001, p. 136
On that website we found also, apart from an interesting text about Munk, a prayer he wrote, which we think fits well with the above reflections.
O Holy Spirit, wipe the tears away from my eyes so that I can see the Savior, see Him so clearly that I can speak of Him to my people in these fateful times. Do your great work in our hearts in this degraded age so that Jesus may be a light to us. Then nothing can subdue us and our eyes are blessed. With the spring of joy bubbling from the heart, each one in the church and those among our people who have eyes with which to see, shall learn of the calm and noble Jesus, where to say no and where to say yes, and how we are to live our lives and do our work so that it may help our neighbor and our country. Amen