Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beautiful and Depraved

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
We know this about ourselves and others, but we don’t like to admit it.  Especially the evil part.  We’d like to think that we have a dividing line in our hearts between good and not-so-good, or at the very least between good and bad.  But evil?  We always find that evil exists outside ourselves, someone else, the really despicable person, but not us.  Not evil.
      The truth is that we are mixtures of good and evil, and it is also true that we tend to minimize both.  We don’t really believe we are as good as we really are, or as bad as we really are, but the truth is that we are more beautiful than we think we are, and more depraved than we think we are.  We are both too hard on ourselves and too easy on ourselves.
There really is something beautiful in each person.  With few exceptions people are quite generous with their time and their resources.  We really do want to help.  Most of the time we are quite warm and hospitable, sometimes in spite of appearances.  In those times where we appear cold and distant it is usually because we are wounded or hurt or lonely or ashamed.   Jodi Picoult, in her novel My Sister's Keeper, wrote “Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it's not because they enjoy solitude. It's because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”
Inside every person there is a tremendous capacity for love, gentleness, compassion, faith, peacemaking, understanding, grace and mercy.  And it often takes little to trigger these things.
We need to be reminded of this, for we are often too hard on ourselves, and some, not all, but some can be attributed to our religious upbringing.  Teachings about the total depravity of humans are neither helpful nor biblical, even if we believe it to be so. That we are unable to save ourselves doesn’t mean we are totally depraved, just ultimately helpless to do that which only Christ could do.
But we are not void of depravity either.  I'm not quibbling with the depravity part, but that total part.  There is much depravity in us, and we tend to underestimate it.  We are congenitally selfish, petty, jealous, suspicious, and small-minded.   And blind to our condition.  We think we can see the speck in our neighbor’s eye and can’t even see the plank in our own.  Ironically, where we think we're sinners is usually not the place where others struggle the most with us and where our real faults lie. Conversely it's in those areas where we think we're virtuous and righteous that, most often, our real sin lies and where others struggle with us.
We need to be reminded of this as well, for we are often too easy on ourselves, and that bleeds away most of the energy and urgency we need for the difficult process of spiritual transformation.  Not recognizing our depravity is how people who are not pure evil can participate in things and systems that are.
To not recognize our beauty leads to depression, and to not recognize our depravity leads to inflation.  Recognizing both the depths of our beauty, created in the image of God, and the depths of our depravity as rebels against our Creator, sets us free.  It sets us free to “press on toward the high calling” while recognizing how formidable that task is, and impossible without God’s help.
     We are too hard on ourselves and too easy on ourselves.  We are loved sinners, both.
     And the good news is that the loved part ultimately wins if we embrace both.

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