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Thursday, August 8, 2013
Fallen Humanity - and the Grace We Need
Monsters or Men?
So there are a few names that are popping up a lot in the news these days: Major Nidal Hasan from the infamous
shootings, and Ariel
Castro along with his victim Michelle Knight. When you read the headlines or hear the news,
do you ever wonder what is wrong with people these days? Fort
The headline that really caught my attention was the one that described Ariel Castro as a “monster”. In his statement, Castro described himself as sick, and denied culpability for his disgusting behaviors. And Hasan seems to have no regrets for the lives he has taken or the injuries he has inflicted. Are these mere flukes of a society gone awry? Or is there something more? Contrast those two individuals with Ms. Knight who has responded in extremely difficult circumstances with dignity, grace and even forgiveness, while acknowledging that the evil she and her comrades experienced at the hands of Castro must be punished. How can people be SO different from one another?
There are those who describe Castro, a twisted fluke of nature. I would argue that he demonstrates the reality of human nature at its worst. On a recent flight back from
I happened to visit with a young woman from Europe, who had moved there some
years ago from Iraq, and
still apparently has family and friends in Iraq. In the course of our discussion, she
commented that Christians were now being killed in Iraq in frightening numbers,
and she started to describe what was happening, but then stopped herself and
said, “No, I won’t tell you how they are killing them. It is just too awful.” Too awful for words.
Some years ago I was in
City, and visiting with some refugees from El Salvador
primarily, and as I listened to their stories, I was impacted by the kinds of
atrocities being done by one group of humans to another down there. I, too, heard things I will not describe to
you, but I will mention that one individual said his family had all been
“machine gunned” at the dad’s law office, and their bodies tossed over a cliff
along with thousands of others. He said
his relatives (nor those of other victims) could not go retrieve the bodies for
burial, because if they did try to claim a body, they would be “machine gunned”
as well, and join their family members in the pit.
I just returned from another trip to
Arizona, and happened to stop in one of the wild west
towns of New Mexico. In that community, there was a news report
back in the 1800’s, that it had been an unusual week, because nobody had been
shot there. So what we are hearing is
nothing new. In fact, you can go back
throughout history and find incredibly awful things people have done to others,
sometimes in the name of country, sometimes in the name of religion (sadly,
including Christianity), and sometimes just out of pure greed or power
hunger. Some of the ways the ancient
Assyrians treated their captives would turn your stomach…they were ruthless and
On the other hand, you can go back through history and find individuals whose deeds are more reflective of Ms. Knight, individuals whose behavior was exemplary, and who inspire us to greater things. In my studies of the rabbinic teachings, they explain that every individual is born with the “inclination to good’ and the “inclination to evil,” and that the goal of life is to follow the good inclination, and hopefully have the scales tipped in that direction upon one’s return to our Maker.
Christian teaching differs, though, from that concept. While we would agree that there are the two directions pulling at us and beckoning us to deeds of good or evil, we also agree with Paul that though we might DESIRE to do good, the reality is that we all end up doing things that are evil, or at least fall short of the perfection of God, despite our best intentions. That is due to the power of sin in our world and in our lives, resulting from the Fall by which all humanity is tainted. Both Romans and Psalms, which it quotes, acknowledge that there are none righteous, but that all have gone astray. What we see in Castro is the manifestation of that unrighteousness with, apparently, nothing to hold it in check.
What we see in Hassan (and I would argue we have seen many times by people doing evil deeds in the name of whatever religion, including Christianity), is the deception we often experience, in which Satan appears as an “angel of light” leading us into deeds which in our deception we THINK are pleasing to God, but are actually the trickery of Satan to lead us to evil. It is easy for us to sit and look at these kind of people, and acknowledge how awful they are, but believe we are not like them. And most of us aren’t, at least in some ways. I have never shot anybody, let alone attacked a whole fort full of soldiers who were my comrades in arms. I have never kidnapped and held captive young girls, and abused them as Castro is charged with doing. And probably you haven’t either. But I know there are things I have done that I shouldn’t have, and later regretted. I know that are things I wish I had done, but turned away from in selfishness or lack of compassion. I bet you could name some of those kinds of things in your own life, as well.
Sin may not find expression in the same form in our lives as it did in Hassan or Castro. But it has found expression in ways that fits US, sadly enough. It is for this reason God’s call to us is to repent, to turn away from those things, and to turn to Him for forgiveness and help in conquering the evils of our lives. We may not have done what those two individuals did, but we also have not been everything God designed us to be, or fulfilled the highest standards he has established. Which is why I find it so interesting when church folks want to condemn divorced individuals as terrible sinners worse than themselves. I don’t know about you, but I am utterly dependent on and thankful for the mercy and grace God extends to us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Without it, who knows which of us could have been the next Hassan or Castro? As the old saying puts it: “but for the grace of God, there go I.”
TL:dr Castro and Hassan evidence for us the fallen nature of humanity, and our desperate need for the forgiveness of Christ.