If the world were a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle, the African nation of Rwanda would fit easily into one piece. If the world were a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle and each nation were sized according to the horror experienced within its borders, Rwanda would easily fill a third of the pieces in 1994.
During Easter of that year the people of this declared Christian nation gathered in churches singing the message of Christ’s resurrection. “One week later, the same devout Christians would become murderers and victims, and the churches the site of calculated butchery.”1
General Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian, was force commander of the UN mission to Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. Understaffed and under-resourced, he could do little as he watched the nation turn into chaos and then genocide—the deliberate attempt to exterminate a racial group.
After returning from duty, Dallaire was asked how, after all he had experienced, he could still believe in God.
“I know there is a God,” he replied, “because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him; I have smelled him; and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God.”2
In 1635 a sceptic had said something similar: “Show me a devil, and I’ll believe there is a God.”3 What’s important here is the recognition that if there is evil, there is good. Both are a part of our reality.
It’s true, roses have thorns, but the thorns have roses. There is evil—but there’s also a baby’s smile, the beach in the summertime, and love. We may shake hands with the devil, but we also experience moments of joy and the presence of God, and indicators that God is real.
Better yet, God has spoken. Christians have long recognised the Bible as the words of God (the message from God). And in Jesus they see the Word of God who “became human and lived here on earth among us” (John 1:14).
God has invested heavily in our planet. He’s its creator (read Genesis 1). His call for loyalty was met with rebellion (see Genesis 2). In this act of rejecting the One who gave life, we now face suffering and death. We’re on a planet at war with itself; we’re at war with ourselves; where Rwanda is a byword for evil.
Enter the living Word of God. Jesus came not to instantly stop wars or pain or suffering, but to heal the rift between humans and God. He demonstrated how to live a worthwhile, God-driven life (see John 1:1-14). See Him mingle with sinners. Watch Him touch the untouchable. Hear Him speak to the despised.
But His main task was fulfilled on a Roman cross. His was no ordinary death. He died the death we deserve as people who reject—in thought and deed—the Life-giver. And He rose again. Underline it: The tomb is empty. Jesus rose again!
His resurrection is a promise of life. John 3:16 says it best of all: “Everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
However, the package isn’t complete without the other promise—the promise of His return—the Second Coming. This is the most-often mentioned subject in the New Testament. “Your kingdom come” is part of the Lord’s Prayer.
The Bible begins with God in action, creating. The Bible ends with God in action—in judgment and recreating. Earth’s history is heading toward a climactic conclusion. In the Bible’s final chapter comes the triple promise from Jesus: “I am coming soon! I am coming soon! I am coming soon!”
Here is hope.
The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There is no purpose ... no goal for mankind ... the world seems ugly, bad and without hope. There, that’s the cry of despair of an old man who will die in despair.”4
There is despair if you see only thorns and not the roses, evil and not the good, pain and not the joy. Rwanda is one of many illustrations of evil we could use that could bring us to despair. Jesus, the Word from God, brings hope.
Jesus spoke about His return. In fact, He warned about conditions and signs before His return—best described in Matthew chapter 24 (also Luke 21).
At one point in his Rwanda tour of duty, General Dallaire stopped at a roadblock and got out of his vehicle. Many people had been killed at the roadblock and their bodies thrown in ditches and along the side of the road. This wasn’t unusual.
As he looked at the bodies, it seemed that a child moved. He leaned down to pick the child up.
“Suddenly I was holding a little body that was both tingling and mushy in my hands,” he recalls. “In a second I realised that the movement was not the child but the action of maggots... . I managed to set the body down and then stood there, shaky, not wanting to think about what was on my hands.”5
In 100 days of evil in Rwanda 800,000 men, women and children died. This is like taking the occupants of a city the size of Melbourne and killing every fourth person. That’s difficult to comprehend. The numbers are too large and too impersonal.
However, a child murdered and left on the side of the road to rot personalises things. This is evil. This is abhorrent. This is a demonstration of the need for the Second Coming that’s easy to grasp. We don’t need to make lists of reasons or signs why Jesus must return soon: one will do—that little body on the side of a Rwandan road.
God will fulfil His promise. Our story begins when God, in a creative act of grace, gives humans life and a planet to inhabit. Having lost the right to Eden, the centre of the story for us is a redemptive act of grace in the dying and rising of Jesus, our substitute and victor over death eternal. The end of the story is a triumphant act of grace in the return of Jesus.
That’s when evil is finally defeated. After that, never again will there be a Holocaust, a Killing Fields, a Rwanda genocide. Never again a small body left on the side of a road to rot.
Until then we continue to pray, “Your kingdom come,” but with anticipation of what God is about to do. The promise is sure: “Yes, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:20).
Bible quotations from New Living Translation (NLT).
1. Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 2005, page 216.
2. Dallaire, ibid, page xxv.
3. Robert Muchembled, trans Jean Birrell, A History of the Devil: From the Middle Ages to the Present, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2003, page 158.
4. Cited in David Wilkinson, The Message of Creation: Encountering the Lord of the Universe, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 2002, page 266.
5. Dallaire, ibid, page 401.