Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's scary

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

- Leonard Cohen

Last week I overhead a typical conversation.

"Have you been following the story of the craigslist murderer?"

"Not really. Fill me in."

"Apparently this medical student in Boston committed this really gruesome murder of a woman he met on craigslist."


"Yeah, and what's really creepy is this guy was a really smart, clean-cut guy that you would never suspect of doing something like this. Why would someone who had everything going for him do something like that?"

"It's scary!"

"Yes it is!"

Truth of the matter is it really is scary. But it shouldn't be surprising. If Christianity teaches anything, it's that we all have an untapped potential for evil within us. Chesterton perceptively observed that the doctrine of original sin is the only Christian doctrine self-evidently true from human experience. Yet we're continually surprised when a clean-cut med student turns out to have a dark side. To say that we're all born with a dark side isn't to say that everyone acts on it to the fullest. Common grace acts as a restraint on evil. Thankfully, serial killers and genocidal dictators are still comparatively rare -- though we shouldn't presume that God's restraining of evil will last indefinitely. Perhaps we're frightened by stories like this because deep down I realize I'm not as different from the Philip Markoff's of the world as I'd like to think. On the flip side, even killers and dictators share something of the Imago Dei with the most virtuous among us. Does that bother you? It shouldn't.

Christianity isn't a Manichean religion of good versus evil forever fighting it out for supremacy, but it does look beyond externals to the real problem -- the evil that resides in the human heart. Christianity is the one religion that takes the problem of evil seriously. In Matthew 15 Jesus is catching flak from folks who thought they could judge one's righteousness, or lack thereof, by external factors. There's a little of them in all of us I'm afraid. In typical fashion Jesus demolishes their pretensions and zeroes in on the heart of the matter, the source of the radical evil he came to fix. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." (Matt. 15:19) Alexander Solzhenitsyn remarked that the line between good and evil runs right down the middle of every human heart. Yeah, it's scary. But all who turn to Christ in faith and repentance can say with the Apostle Paul, "by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain." And what's more, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." The cross has triumphed over evil. It's only a matter of time now.

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