Violence and Healing
Following trauma, former church president offers words to his homeland
By Jan Paulsen
he absolutely senseless acts of violence and terror which hit Norway on July 22, initiated by the misguided, confused, but clearly indoctrinated mindset of a single individual, have brought a trauma to this peaceful nation of nearly 5 million inhabitants unparalleled since the end of World War II.
The mid-morning bomb, detonated outside the government headquarters in Oslo, with massive physical damage over an extended area and the death of a number of individuals who either worked in the buildings or were just walking past, was bad enough. I was in the Oslo area that day. There are moments when the shock and pain are such that one cannot find words--one can only cry and suffer. Such was this moment.
What transpired through the next two to three hours took the shock and horror to a level beyond description for Norway. This madman, who had just finished his act of terror in Oslo, embarked on a killing spree of scores of youth on a small lake island a half-hour drive from Oslo. These youth were in a sense “prisoners” on the island--with nowhere to hide and no way to get off the island except to swim. Even in the water the bullets found them. Extreme brutality; no mercy; a distortion of basic humanity.
In the hours and days immediately following, much was said that will be long remembered, including the poignant comment of one of the surviving youth: “If so much evil can be done by one person, consider how much good can be done by a community united in care and support for each other.”
Norway is a very open society, which has demonstrated significant inclusiveness toward immigrants, particularly from Asia and Africa. This value is part of what the shooter in his distorted thinking thought he could undo. But the nation of Norway is committed to not allow its fundamental values of freedom, openness and inclusiveness to be abandoned or weakened.
Extremism gives birth to violence. The vocabulary and language of anger gives birth to violence. Violence destroys life; acceptance sustains it. In making this discovery, Norway lost its innocence. But Norway has pledged to continue being open and inclusive while building a safer future.
Every religious community, Christian or other, must discredit the elements of extremism in its own ranks before these elements have time to demonstrate their destructive potential.
Adventists everywhere will want to join in offering compassion, support, and prayers for the thousands of families and friends in Norway who are struggling to come to terms with their loss and this sad chapter in Norway’s history.
A native of Norway, Jan Paulsen is the former president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church.