Best of Steve — Human Nature

January 9, 2009, 12:00 am; posted by
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Originally printed January 10, 2008.

I like a lot more people than I trust.

Part of this is because I know myself. I’m aware of what I think about and what I have thought about. I remember the things that I have done, wanted to do, could be capable of doing.

Much of it is because I know other people, generally. How they lie. Why they lie. What motivates them. People, in the flesh, in the mind, are not really very different from one another; it’s just a matter of which flaws they possess. One woman can handle huge sums of money faithfully, yet fly into a violent rage when angry at her children. One man might remain untempted to stray from his wife, but struggle with the desire for mind-altering substances.

I get paid to read about people now, sometimes, and the terrible things they have done, to help determine whether their punishment was fair. It would be nice to imagine, as Solzhenitsyn wished, that the solution to evil is simply finding all the bad people and destroying them. Unfortunately, that won’t work — or better put, it works only if done most thoroughly. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And so I find it can be true that a man guilty of heinous crimes against some children can nonetheless be beloved by others, can be hailed, perhaps rightfully, as a pillar of his church and community. It seems incongruent, it seems wrong. How can a person do both? How can, for instance, a successful and married evangelical pastor purchase (at least) methamphetamine and, in all likelihood, carry on a homosexual affair?

Life is easier and less threatening for us if we can divide people into well-defined, recognizable groups — the inhuman monsters who rape and murder, the unwashed dissolute who “live in sin,” and then the nice people, whether Christians or not, who pretty much get along with everyone and try to do their best.

But by pretending that what drives the ‘worst’ among us is somehow different from the evil that still exists in our own heart, we set ourselves up for a grand disappointment — by ourselves, and by our heroes. And when this self-deception leads us to marginalize our own sinfulness (after all, we’re not beating children or taking meth, right?), we skip happily down the path of slow and steady compromise, the broad way that leads to destruction, an evil anesthesia that scars the heart and leaves us less and less convicted with every sin we rationalize.


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