Sometimes it seems like the world is going to hell.
There’s a bunch of religious fanatics in Iran intent on making a nuclear weapon, and I can’t imagine anything worse than a religious fanatic with a nuke. Unless it’s an atheist with a nuke, which is what it seems we have in North Korea. Newtown, Connecticut still haunts us, as does Columbine, 9-11, and Oklahoma City. And now Boston. It’s easy to give up thinking that things will get better when they just seem to be getting worse.
It’s also in times like these that we get pushed—or we push ourselves—toward extreme views. One is that the total depravity of humanity has been irrefutable proven once more. Or, at least, that there are some among us who are totally depraved. It’s hard to argue against that, isn’t it? Whoever did this has to be a despicable person, someone so warped and degraded as to be sub-human and unworthy of anything but death—and we’d even waive the injunction against cruel and unusual.
But then we have to be reminded that the line between good and evil doesn’t run between people but runs straight through the heart of each person. Few people renounce all violence—we all have conditions in which we believe that killing another person is justified, whether in self-defense, in defense of our families, of the unborn, of country or creed, or whatever. And though we have laws governing those conditions, we don’t all agree with those laws. One person’s justifiable killing is another person’s unjustifiable killing. Everyone who commits violence feels justified in doing so, even if only in the heat of the moment. Don’t think for a moment that the Boston bomber(s) said to himself, “I'm an evil person, so I guess I need to go do something evil.” No, if we catch the person and if we hear his story, he will somehow justify it. He will in his own mind have a cause or a reason that he felt justified an act of violence. We won’t agree with him, and we will find his reasoning depraved, but unless you are Amish or Mennonites or Quakers or Benedictine monks who totally renounce all violence, most of us have a definition of justifiable violence that others would find depraved.
But if the line between good and evil runs through the heart of every human, that means that there is justifiable goodness in each person as well. We are not totally depraved, just partially. The image and likeness of God with which we were created manifests itself in people as well. Comedian Patton Oswalt wrote about this in a Facebook posting that has become popular in the aftermath of the bombings. He pointed out that when the bombs went off, many people understandably ran away, but there were many people whose first reaction was to run toward the explosions, toward the victims. They did so without thinking, in the heat of the moment if you will, just reacting. If people are capable of violence in the heat of the moment, they are also capable of great goodness and self-sacrifice in the heat of the moment. I should point out that we don't know what religion these people were, so we cant’ say it was a Christian reaction or Buddhist reaction or Jewish or whatever. It was, in fact, a human reaction, but one born of the image and likeness of God, for who can doubt that God was immediately with the victims as well?
None of us are totally depraved, and while there are those among us who seem to dwell in the depravity side of the human heart, there are many who allow the God image-and-likeness to take up more space, crowding the depravity into a corner. I’d like to think that number is growing, but on days like Monday it’s easy to think it’s not—until, once again, you look at the people running toward the explosions.
The Bible tells us that with the Incarnation of Christ, culminating in the cross, depravity lost. There are some who say that we are in a war against evil, but that war is over, and evil lost. Depravity still fights, but it loses ground every time we put our swords down and run toward the victims.