Note: This story was originally published on August 26, 2015, after the murder of news reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward. I brought it back the nightmare in downtown Dallas, and now again following "the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history," because I think we could all use a little reminder about hope.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
That quote comes from John 1, but despite being a Christian for most of my life, I didn't really acknowledge it until I heard author Ted Dekker reference it multiple times (including in two of his novels). Dekker has spent much of his career writing dark stories where he paints evil with "a very dark brush." But even his darkest stories, he says, are stories of redemption. "I'm being rescued every time I write a story. That's actually why I write stories."
Dekker's comments are obviously laced with the spirituality attached to his faith in the Bible, but the feelings he's talking about are universal. You don't need to be religious in any way to feel as if our world is broken and something needs to change. With every shooting, every starving child, every injustice in the world you don't have to look far on social media to see the collective groan of humanity as people wonder aloud, "Why are we so horrible to each other?"
The Internet is wonderful at bringing people together to share our feelings with one another. Both our joys and our sorrows.
The Internet is also good -- far too good -- at magnifying the worst feelings we have. Despair and disappointment and hatred can far too easily become the driving force behind what we post online, feeding a machine that will never be satisfied with the amount of rage we put into it. It's like that memory eating planet in Doctor Who, only somehow more terrifying. This has even bled into our fiction, where some people have said that they're tired of stories with happy endings -- they want stories that are more "real," where good doesn't always win and things don't always work out the way we want them to.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of wallowing. I'd rather be rescued.
I'd rather be Samwise Gamgee.
We tend to get to that point in our thought process and stop. "Well, humanity had a good run, but we're screwed now. Just look at us. Come on back, Jesus. It's time to close up shop."
But the story doesn't end there. The stories that really stick with us, Sam points out, are the ones where the people in them keep going despite how horrible everything around them gets. They're holding on to the fact that "there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for."
This is the thing that strikes me most every time a tragedy like today's happens. Yes, it sucks. Yes, we can use it to start a lot more discussions (and a lot more heated arguments) about topics like mental illness and gun control and aggressive media and a whole host of other topics.
But lost in all of that we tend to forget the most important part: That the darkness in this world can be beaten by injecting a bit of light into it.
Even a movie (based on the book series) that's named for its Series of Unfortunate Events gets this right in the end.
"At times the world can seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe us when we say that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough."
That's not to say that every story has to end with the good guy winning and everybody sitting around a dinner table with unicorns and rainbows. There's a place for the Breaking Bads of the world, and they can have their own messages to spread. But when the world is crappy enough as it is, I'd rather be reminded that everything is going to be OK in the end.
So we can weep. We can pray. We can spend months obsessing about the most recent in a long line of heinous killers and trying to understand why they did what they did.
Or we can focus on bringing more light into the world. Because when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it.