Staying with Jesus After Suffering Great Evil

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A staggering story just landed in our inbox. The reader begins by recalling a moment of divine revelation at a very early age, followed a few years later by a suicide bombing at his school that left him mangled for life:

I suppose the Sunday School teacher of the church three houses down the street from ours had just said something crucial to me. Had it been on the morning of that day? Because I remember a day when my field of vision to the right oriented me as being perpendicular to approximate middle C of the keyboard of our upright piano, which I saw out of the corner of my eye as I toddled toward something in our living room, or maybe toward the hallway, which turned to the right and led to my bedroom with the small round mirror on the right wall just inside the room.

It was in that moment I was irradiated with the knowledge that Jesus was the son of God, my God, the one with whom, as the writer to the Hebrews says, I had to do. The feeling that accompanied this sureness is best called ecstasy, though bliss will do.

If I was four years old, I couldn’t have been four years and two months old, because by then we’d left that simple little Levittown-like new house in the Belleville neighborhood, just west of downtown South Bend, Indiana, for Houston. There, three years later, I was almost killed in a mass murder that killed my two best friends, another little boy, and two impossibly courageous adults who tried desperately to save our lives.

I was left severely disabled for the rest of my life. Through the five-and-a-half decades since that day, many dear and worthwhile things have been denied to me because of a madman’s meticulously planned act. Often I’ve wished one of the best trained nurses in the United States hadn’t been a block away, hadn’t reacted instantly, hadn’t run without stinting into a mundane hell to save me just before I bled to death.

But I know that for me, as for every other Christian, the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in me through Christ Jesus, my Lord.

When I asked our reader who this madman was, he replied:

It was Paul Harold Orgeron who did this. Google “Poe school bombing.” The best article about it is “Suffer the Children,” published in the April 2013 issue of Houstonia.

That essay was published in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and its devastating details are set against the ones from the suicide bombing at Edgar Allen Poe Elementary on September 15, 1959 that left three children, two adults, and the perpetrator dead and nearly 20 injured—including our reader, grievously so. Orgeron, a three-time convict, showed up to the school that morning with his young son and six sticks of dynamite in a suitcase. From Houstonia:

The bell rang and announcements began. Poe’s principal, Ruth Doty, then in her fortieth year of working in Houston schools, got on the loudspeaker to lead the children through the Pledge of Allegiance before reciting her famously sing-song, falsetto renditions of the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me… [...]

At around 10 a.m. on the playground at the rear of Poe Elementary, Orgeron and his son approached second-grade teacher Patricia Johnston. “Teacher, read these,” said Orgeron, handing Johnston two notes. Johnston had trouble deciphering the chicken-scratch that Orgeron, himself a second-grade dropout, handed her.

Meanwhile, he mumbled about “the will of God” and “power in a suitcase.” Looking down at the case, Johnston made a chilling discovery: there was a doorbell-type button affixed to the bottom of it. She became even more alarmed when Orgeron began insisting that she gather all her students around him.

Continued here. (And here is a related Notes discussion about theodicy—the question of why a benevolent God would allow for so much suffering in the world.)