On Thursday 31st March 2016 I read many stories at the Crime Museum Uncovered, an enthralling exhibition currently showing at the Museum of London, London Wall. Crime cases from Victorian times to 1975, solved by the Metropolitan Police. Most of the criminals were hanged; some were miscarriages of justice; vulnerable people, who today would have received 10 years in jail and might then have turned their lives around and gone on to achieve great things.
Others were people we might think “deserved to die” because the crimes they had committed were so ruthless and wicked (for instance the woman who, under the guise of running a care service for children of the poor, murdered 15 babies).
In some cases, black and wicked hearts were exposed, hearts “as hard and merciless as rock”; and victims whose names we only know by the terrible manner of their deaths, and the disposal of their bodies by their murderers. People, it seems, who we were to define by the way they died. And yet, as a novelist, I am convinced that no-one is ever defined by the manner of their death. We are all complex beings, mind, body and spirit, with our joys, sorrows, memories, dreams, passions and impulses. We don’t define the greatest by their deaths; neither Mozart, nor Shakespeare, nor any other. So why should we define the lives of anyone in that way, no matter how obscure, how ‘ordinary’ they were during their lives on this earth. This exhibition set out to ‘give the victims a voice’ and yet I did feel it fell into the trap of defining the individual victims by the manner of their deaths.
I am fascinated by human wickedness and this will impact upon the theme and plot of my third novel, following on from “Mystical Circles” and “A Passionate Spirit”. I touched on an aspect of evil in “A Passionate Spirit” but will go much deeper in my next novel. I’m not sure yet whether the paranormal will be there, but psychological suspense certainly will, and so will crime, setting the characters a huge challenge.
The Christian faith teaches that no-one is beyond redemption.
This is just one Christian concept I, along with, I suspect, many others, struggle with.
Alexander Solzenitsyn in his great book The Gulag Archipelago , which I read in my teens, describes what he calls “the threshold magnitude of evil”. Evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life. He slips, falls back, clambers up, repents, things begin to darken again. But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and he himself is still within reach of our hope. But when, through the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme danger or of the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return.”
Every so often, over the years since reading that book, I have been brought back to Solzenitsyn’s observations. Whenever I read books about the Nazi Holocaust, his words come to mind.
Yet have we ever considered that, when Jesus took upon his shoulders the sins of the world, as Christian theology teaches, he at that moment was the worst person in the world.
It is a mind-blowing thought. We read of wicked acts in our news every day, and (unless we are suffering from compassion fatigue) we shudder.
Yet Jesus was the most wicked person in the world, at that time of darkness, before his resurrection.
It shows once again the huge paradox that is the Christian faith. “The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”