CARE: Christian Action, Research and Education

For what you believe
Open menu Close menu

Lucy Letby: how can we respond to evil?

Peter Ladd

Eyasu etsub j3 R9 C Xqe1w unsplash min

Sometimes you just do not know what to say.

The news this week that Britain’s most prolific child serial killer will face life imprisonment for her crimes has been met with a palpable sense of relief. But I suspect that many of us, myself included, have struggled to process our range of emotions, confounded by a mixture of grief, horror, and visceral anger at Lucy Letby, who perpetrated such evil against vulnerable, innocent little babies.

How as Christians are we to make sense of all this? We believe in a religion of grace, and yet some crimes are so heinous that our human justice does not seem like it can ever be enough.

And where is God in all of this? Where was he when seven babies were brutally murdered by a psychopath? How can he let things like this happen, and why doesn’t he intervene more quickly?

I make no claim to have the answers to these questions; in fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think that’s actually the point. Philosophers have pondered the problem of evil for centuries; but theories can never be the same as real life events. There are some questions that only God can answer, and even then, He won’t do it yet.

But I do hope that the below - which gives voice to my own confused thoughts - at least gives you a platform to think through your own, and that in doing so, you come to trust in our God who understands our confusion and our pain, even when we don’t understand Him back.

The real­ity of evil

The increasingly secular West has a complex relationship with the idea of good and evil. On the one hand, having dismissed the idea of God, people understand that they have no objective grounding for such an idea; in their view, we are nothing but a collection of molecules, and how can sheer matter be infused with moral qualities?

The atheist Richard Dawkins put forward such a view with his customary panache:

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden

At the same time, many believe that if there is no god, there is no one to whom they are accountable, no one to set them rules to follow and no one to define reality; such a move has perhaps been seen most clearly within the world of sexual ethics. To question others’ morals is to be written off as intolerant, judgemental and bigoted.

But none of us really live in such a way; we all believe in right and wrong, ultimately. There is a point beyond which we all deem behaviour to be utterly unacceptable, to be evil.

In the first of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling makes clear what a world without right or wrong would be like. The villainous (and genocidal) Lord Voldemort, trying to convince Harry Potter to join his side, says:

“There is no good and evil; there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”
JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

None of us believe he is right; indeed the generation Rowling wrote the books for has developed such a strident sense of right and wrong that it has attempted to cancel her for her views around gender.

It was at the start of the Second World War when the poet WH Auden - who had previously believed in the essential goodness of humanity - found his worldview crashing down around him. In November 1939, Auden attended a cinema in a German-speaking district of Manhattan, of a Nazi account of the conquest of Poland. He was horrified to behold several of the other attendees screaming ‘Kill them’ whenever the Poles appeared on screen. Shaken by such a display of evil from seemingly ordinary people, he abandoned his humanism, began to recognise external moral absolutes, and came to a belief in Christianity.

When we are confronted by a case like Lucy Letby’s, everyone can see the reality of evil. Letby has been convicted of murdering seven babies, and attempting to murder a further six. According to the Times, detectives are now investigating the collapse of an additional twelve babies.

The Judge, Mr Justice Goss, put it bluntly:

“This was a cruel, calculated and cynical campaign of child murder. There was a deep malevolence bordering on sadism in your actions. During the course of this trial, you have coldly denied any responsibility for your wrongdoing. You have no remorse. There are no mitigating factors.”
Justice Goss KC

There is such a thing as evil, and everyone knows it.

Of course, as Christians, we are not able to just separate the world into good people and bad people. “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Psalm 14:3).

But that does not mean that all sins are equal (they’re not), or that we are not to use human justice systems to punish particular wrongdoing (we are). It is right for us to feel horrified at evil, because God himself does.

A place for lament…and anger?

God-willing, the pain which the parents of the babies at the centre of the Letby trial are going through, is pain which the rest of us will never have to go through. Please do keep them in your prayers in the days ahead.

When something goes so horribly wrong, it is human instinct to look for answers. This is the case for both Christians and non-Christians alike. Just as we might ask God ‘Why?’, so have the media been trying to uncover who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did about it. There is a time and a place for such enquiries on a human-level, but only when the victims are ready for it.

For well-meaning though such answers may be, there is a place for grief in the Christian life.

A friend once told me sometimes we just shove Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”) down people’s throats, regardless of how they were feeling. The promise is true, but it is often not what people need to hear (and within the context of Romans, it certainly doesn’t come as a response to human grief).

Trying to discern God’s purposes can do immense damage. We remember Job’s friends - who try to provide him with answers - for their foolishness and their lack of pastoral sensitivity. But they had originally started off well:

“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was”
Job 2:12-13

Things only went wrong when they began talking.

There is nothing wrong with grieving as a Christian. Indeed, there is nothing inherently wrong with anger at evil either (although as with so many of our emotions, it can easily become wrong).

I have always been moved by the story of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus knows why Lazarus has died, and he also knows that Lazarus’ story will not end in death, as he will raise him. And yet Jesus still wept, when he saw Mary weeping.

The late Tim Keller, in his sermon (which I would highly recommend) after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, wrote:

“Jesus Christ was the most mature person who ever lived, yet he is falling into grief. It is not a sign of immaturity or weakness. The people who are more like Jesus don’t avoid grief.”
Tim Keller

In the same passage, we see Jesus’ anger at the enemy that is death. John 11:33 reads: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” But the word for “deeply moved” has the sense to “quaking with rage”, and the word for “troubled” is that use of animals like an angry lion or a raging bull.

Yes, righteous anger can quickly become unrighteous, but if God is angry at injustice and evil - as He often is within Scripture - then for us to be righteously angry at it too is part of us reflecting the image of God Himself.

Com­ing to Jesus

“How long, Lord, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord;
they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner;
they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”
Psalm 94:3-7

When I first heard about the Lucy Letby case, my mind went to the Psalms, where God, in his grace, has provided us with utterly raw and real emotional cries to him. There are more psalms of lament than of praise. The psalmists don’t try and discern God’s purposes; I find Chris Wright’s words helpful here:

“Our suffering friends in the Bible didn’t choose that way. They simply cry out in pain and protest against God - precisely because they know God. Their protest is born out of the jarring contrast between what they know and what they see.”
Chris Wright, The God I don't understand

Cries of lament and grief to God are really cries of trust.

For we know that God really does see - and feel - our pain. David writes in Psalm 56:

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Psalm 56:8

Indeed, God is Himself grieved by our own pain. What was it which elicited such a strong response from Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb? It wasn’t the fact that Lazarus had died. It was the pain that brought to everyone else: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

In CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there is a scene in which the young boy Digory asks the lion Aslan for help to cure his mother:

“Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

'My son, my son,' said Aslan. 'I know. Grief is great.”
CS Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

God knows. And he understands.

He understands all too well. The other place where my mind has wandered to this week when trying to process the Lucy Letby case is to a hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Another father, the heavenly Father, saw his innocent son Jesus betrayed and abandoned by his friends, tried by wicked men, and nailed to a cross by the very people he came to save.

God understands the pain of evil all too well.

And one day, he will judge it. Our sure and certain hope is not simply that we can come to Jesus now, but that he will come to us then.

For those who are unrepentant, like Lucy Letby currently is, their wickedness will be judged. We may feel today like a life sentence is not enough to atone for her crimes.

But she cannot escape God’s judgement. She cannot refuse to come to the trial on that day. Either she can repent, grasping the full weight of what she has done and trusting that Jesus has paid for her sins, or she will pay for her sins herself.

Perfect justice will one day be done.

In the meantime, all we can do is cry: ‘Marana tha’. ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’

Receive news from CARE each week

By signing up stay in touch you agree to receive emails from CARE. You can change your mailing preferences at any time either by getting in touch with CARE, or through the links on any of our emails.