Over the last week the many statements, opinions, and responses to the bombing in Boston have been broad, varied, and filled with emotion. They expressed, appropriately so, shared pain, sorrow, grief, and anger. They offered gratitude, pride, and support for the courage, compassion, and love shown by the many heroes who responded and cared for the dead, the injured, and those still in danger. Others, not surprisingly, focused not so much on the bombing but specifically on the alleged bombers and generally on Islam. They were vicious and malicious.
These last reactions reminded me of the hermit in a story from the life of St. Silouan (1866-1938), a monk of Mount Athos. The story is told by Archimandrite Sophrony on page 48 of his book, St. Silouan the Athonite.
I remember a conversation between [Silouan] and a certain hermit who declared with evident satisfaction,
‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’
Obviously upset, [Silouan] said,
‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there you looked down and saw someone burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?’
‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit.
[Silouan] answered him in a sorrowful countenance:
‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.’
I am not condoning or excusing the bombing in Boston or any other act of violence. I recognize, however, how easily “all atheists” can be replaced with the name of our favorite person or people to blame. This is true not only for the bombing in Boston but for all the times we or those we care about have been hurt by another. Sometimes they are guilty. Other times they are not. Regardless, “Love could not bear that.”