What can be done in the face of horrific terrorist violence? How are we to respond to senseless brutality? When defenceless children and young people who had gathered simply to enjoy music are left dead, injured or traumatised, what is to be said?
I’m sure I’m not alone in pondering these questions. Sadly, similar questions are faced regularly by communities across the world.
But though there are no simple answers, I believe the people of Manchester have given us a powerful lesson in how to respond to tragedy, pain and anger. On hearing of the attack, many people from the city rushed to offer help, shelter, food and even their own blood. They were drawn from all the communities and religious groups that live together in Manchester. Among them were Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, atheists, and many others. Doors were thrown open across the city to offer sanctuary and comfort. The emergency services reacted with characteristic care and professionalism. Taxi drivers took people home without thought for fares. Prayers and thoughts were offered for those affected.
To me, this response reflects what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to a community experiencing great violence 2,000 years ago. He took their suffering very seriously, and wrote to them with advice: “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is not advice that ignores or lessens the very real pain that is felt at such times. It is not guidance that suggests those responsible for violence should not be brought to justice. No. Rather, it describes an important truth: that repaying evil with evil simply multiplies evil, but that evil can be overcome by responding with goodness. Evil simply has no response to true goodness, just as darkness cannot overcome light.
And so as candles are lit for the victims of the Manchester attack over the coming weeks, months, and years, may they remind us – amid the pain – that the greatest response to evil is to respond with goodness together.
Bishop of Chelmsford