Sometimes I wonder how it's possible for human beings to do the things we do - the horrible, mean, cruel, inhumane, despicable, evil, almost unimaginable deeds that humans do. You know the things I'm referring to - those things that we hear and read about through the various news media on a regular basis. And for most of us - thank God! - that news coverage is as close as we get to that kind of action.
How is it possible that human beings, created in the image of a good God, can become so de-railed and disoriented from their very design that we actually commit such acts of darkness? I wonder what the mechanism is that somehow restrains or even shuts off impulses for good and self-giving and sacrifice and turns on, instead, impulses for evil.
But maybe even more disturbing than the extreme instances of violence - the guy who guns down people in a movie theatre, or the sexual predator who rapes young children, or the family man who participates in a genocide, or the businessman (or woman) or politician who intentionally capitalizes on a system that is set up to exploit the vulnerable - are the everyday violences that simmer just under the surface. I'm talking about the capacity we have to inflict pain and shame and suffering on people for no more provocation than that we disagree with them or we feel threatened by their opinion or we are envious of their place in life. Why do we lash out at people in both subtle and obvious ways?
There are times when I feel an incredible sense of peace. I feel connected to all that is good. But too often these moments are fleeting and that sense of harmony can be shattered in a moment by a thought, an image, an action, a word. I live, it seems, in a constant tension between the beauty and the beast in me and in those around me.
The story of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 6-8) is a disturbing account of God's judgment and punishment of His amazing creation gone bad. Genesis 6:5-7 says:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.I can't help but think that God must have been heart-broken and/or simply outraged by the way humanity was behaving. Speaking of "impulses", it seems that God's impulse to wipe the slate clean by destroying all that He had made (with the exception of a tiny remnant that could start over) was pretty extreme. Just enough DNA to start anew. To literally re-build from the ground up. But surely God knew that the fatal flaw - the capacity for evil - had not been eliminated. The human creature was still free to choose evil over good.
As I look at myself and around the globe at the violence and selfishness that seems to have the upper hand, it makes me wonder, how close are we to reaching the same level of wickedness? And even though God promised not to destroy the earth by flood again, what other consequences of wickedness might lay ahead of us? Sometimes I fear that society as we know it will implode if we remain on the course that we're on. We are quite literally, I think, on a collision course with utter anarchy and chaos.
But when despair threatens to overtake me I think about God who I believe to be the original and pure essence of the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Will He repay evil with evil? Or will He - somehow - overcome evil with good?
I become lost in the maze of these thoughts.
This is what I know: I have the capacity for beauty and for beastliness and so, I expect, does every single person on this planet. I am broken and I often operate out of my brokenness, but I'm not broken beyond repair, and neither is anyone else. I don't know exactly how it will happen or when it will happen, but I believe that God will pull it off. If He's not going to destroy His creation again, despite the fact that that may be exactly what we deserve, He will provide a way forward. In the meantime, there's no time for lament and despair.
This may sound very naive, but despite all appearances to the contrary - all the bad stuff I started this post with - there is also a lot of good. And maybe - NO, certainly! - as in the days of Elisha (the Old Testament prophet), there are forces at work that we do not see (see 2 Kings 6:1-23).
Every person has their story. There is none - no matter what they think or what they do - who is beyond the reach of God. Love will triumph over hate, good over evil. And God's justice may surprise us.