If the devil is in the detail, where is God?


By Jocelyn Hutton

We have an almost perverse fascination with catastrophe. We love hearing about them and replaying them over and over. For example, there are apparently over 1,300 English language films made about the Second World War alone. However, I doubt our interest in such events, some of which happened hundreds of years ago, would be nearly as prolonged or as piqued if it were not for the detail. Once we get to know the detail, whether through first hand accounts or fictional retellings, we are hooked. We just can’t get enough of it. 

Take the sinking of the Titanic. It was, by any account, one of the most heartbreaking maritime disasters of all time, not least because of the utter avoidability of it all. However, this happened over a hundred years ago and affected a relatively small number of people, none of whom I am personally aware of. Were it not for James Cameron’s 1997 depiction, or Julian Fellowes’ 2012 miniseries, I would not have nearly as much personal feeling for the plight of those plunged into the icy depths as I do today. 

For example, when I read ‘Helen “Lorraine” Allison, died April 15, 1912, aged 2 years’, that only moves me so much. But when I learnt her story: that she had the chance to get in a lifeboat but died totally unnecessarily along with both of her parents, while they searched the ship for her 11-month old baby brother—from whom they had become separated, never to find him and never to know that he was already safely aboard a lifeboat—that tore me to shreds. She was the only child victim in First or Second Class. We have no such detail of the 49 children from Third Class who died. Their little lives were lived and lost without anyone, beyond perhaps any surviving family members, knowing the detail. And while I feel an ache for their loss and the injustice of it, it’s far less tangible than what I feel for Lorraine because I don’t know what their lives were like or how they died.

Earlier this year, I made a rare incursion into the West End to watch The Jungle, a new play about the migrant camp at Calais. At first I wasn’t too affected by the plot, as I thought I knew the premise. But as the stories of the migrants unraveled, I couldn’t help but be drawn in. When one teenage boy, who had been a child soldier, started telling the details of his abuse and the peril of his journey—and showing the scars he bore as a result of both—it brought tears to my eyes. As one critic said of The Jungle: as we get to know the detail behind the names, ‘faces emerge from the mass of noise to become individuals about whom it is impossible not to care.’ 

The distress for us is that there is often very little we can do. We feel deeply the injustice towards the Third Class passengers of the Titanic when we hear their stories, but we can’t go back in time and help them. Our hearts are rent for refugees when we see photographs like that of three-year old Alan Kurdi lying face down on the beach, but what can we really do? Do we even know the full story? Does anyone know the full story of our life, its every detail?

They say the devil is in the detail. But we can often wonder whether God is. If only there were someone who could see every detail of a person’s life and deliver justice correctly—who wouldn’t forget one moment. It would have to be someone who was above petty class and race differences. Someone who wasn’t also vying for survival themselves and yet someone who knew what that felt like. To do this right, this person would have to have been before time and still living; would have to be impartial and good; would have to have nothing to gain and nothing to lose; would have to have perfect knowledge and ability.

I have become convinced that this person is Jesus. He knows every detail of your life. He knows absolutely everything about you and said he has even numbered every hair on your head. He not only knows every detail but he cares about every detail, no matter how intimate or mundane. He knows the motivations of your heart, your best and worst moments. He has walked this earth, and knows what it’s like to be human and yet is so distinct from us in that He is also divine, unsullied by our mixed motives and our limitations. 

Thankfully, because Jesus can see every detail, he ‘doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ He can and will deliver justice for those forgotten by time and for the injustices perpetrated against us. God is in the detail and he is into the detail. He can’t and won’t forget one detail about your life and one day will reconcile every injustice and make everything right. He knows all of our stories completely, our every action throughout time. He alone knows what we deserve, but the best part is that he doesn’t treat us as we deserve. To reconcile every injustice would also have to include the injustices we have committed, and yet he says he ‘will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea’ if we accept him. That sounds like someone worth knowing to me.

Question or comments? Email Jocelyn