I enjoy reading a paper book, but during a vacation it is convenient to use an e-reader. Besides more serious reading, I usually enjoy a book with a good deal of suspense. I then often go for a Scandinavian thriller. Somehow the Scandinavian countries have produced a multitude of good writers of police novels.
Last night I reached the denouement of one of the most recent books by the Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen, in his series about the Q department of the Danish police that deals with unsolved murder cases from the past. I read Natrium Chlorid (2021) in a Dutch translation. I can read a Swedish book without too much difficulty, but Danish is a bit more challenging. So I opted for a Dutch translation. Unfortunately, the quality of the translation left to be desired and perhaps (in retrospect) I should have chosen the English version. But the story was no less exciting and the plot of the book no less sophisticated!
The staff of Department Q eventually managed to discover the identity of a criminal who managed to stay under the radar for several decades and gruesomely murdered a total of 17 people. She was finally unmasked while in the process of carrying out her final murder,
The remarkable thing about this criminal woman was her motive. She felt that God had called her to eliminate on His behalf people who were a moral stain on society. She was an avenging angel and her divine calling provided the motivation for her murderous career. This allowed her to thank God for allowing her to be His tool when, after days or weeks of torment, she administered a lethal injection to her victims.
Perhaps it is a professional deformation on my part that even when reading a police novel I look for material that I can possibly use in a sermon. In this case, it was rather obvious. In this novel, the perpetrator’s religious beliefs led to a spate of deadly violence. Often a person’s religious conviction–the belief that God has called you to a particular task-leads to a life of loving devotion to an ideal. But often religion is also the basis for all kinds of questionable activities. Religion can become the cover for political extremism, as well as for all kinds of other forms of fanaticism and intolerance. Religious people can be very unpleasant or downright dangerous, especially when religion is linked to nationalism and a sense of ethnic superiority. Within a spiritual community, a link between religion and unbridled ambition can be an enormous threat. And when the idea of being chosen by God, to call his church to order, is coupled with a fundamentalist approach to dogmatic certainties, it can easily lead to spiritual coercion and verbal abuse.
We can hardly defend ourselves against the accusation that religion has through the centuries caused enormous misery. In many conflicts, religious intolerance is a major (and often deadly) component. In doctrinal and ethical conflicts in the church, the peace of Christ is often tragically absent. Ultimately, the religion of Jesus Christ is about becoming better people. According to Matthew 25, the final assessment of all us is how compassionate we have been and whether we have met Christ in those around us. The question then is not how religious we have been, but how Christian (i.e., Christ-like) we have lived.