Sheila Wray Gregoire's Friday column today surprised me. She talked about a recent murder trial where the lawyer was skeptical that his client had been singled out because, "he’s intelligent, well-educated and financially well-off..." How, he asked, could someone like that commit murder?
Like her, I'm surprised someone would say something so naive. I'm surprised someone would think that being rich or being educated makes you a nicer person. Hah! Have you MET educated people? The thing about education is that you can say anything and wrap it up in all your educated terms and phrases and people will believe it. You have the power to make falsehood sound like fact. Education doesn't make you a better peron; it just gives you a bigger responsibility. That doesn't mean you'll handle that responsibility well.
But I was more surprised by the rest of her article: she talks about a psychiatrist who wrote a book about his journey time and again dealing with simply evil people. And sure, there are the people with problems, the people he can help. But then there are the people who lie just because they can. They don't have motive, they don't have any conditioning or bad past or a disorder or disability that explains their behavior. They're just...bad people.
And this shocked me.
Not that evil doesn't happen. But normally, much as I don't condone injustice, I often want to offer at least a conditional pardon for the person who did it. Repay the wrong and then get a chance to do better again. We all do wrong, but people can change. If they won't, then that's their choice, and it's a different story. But, I always think, so many of us will change. Even though we chose the wrong action, we did what we did out of a certain reasoning, and when faced with the facts and consequences, surely we can work our reasoning around and do better--maybe not be perfect, but at least do better?
But I was faced with my twenty-first century Western mindset today. The mindset that wants to love and tolerate and be open. The mindset that wants to believe we can fix anything, progress far enough, make everything better, be better people...solve the world's problems.
Are you nodding your head in agreement with me? The problem is, the whole world doesn't agree with us on this. I have to admit, I don't think we're more "enlightened" than anyone else. Technology progresses, philosophy argues forward, and yet we are still faced with the same basic questions and think the same basic thoughts. Each culture comes up with its own way of functioning and hoping and establishing justice, but each culture has had serious oversight. We can look back and see the problems with the Victorians or the Meiji dynasty or what have you. But we can't look at ourselves and see our flaws, because we live and breathe this style of thinking.
Which is why when a respected psychiatrist stands up and says that some people do evil just because they want to, and there's no way to help them or rationalize with them or fix them...we want to come up with an answer. There's a hole in our culture's worldview, and we want to plug it. The psychiatrist is wrong. There's another explanation. There's some conditioning that these people are going through that makes them how they are, we just have overlooked it.
But maybe there really is just evil out there. Just evil. No excuses, no reasons. No regret or guilty feelings. No self-defense. No bad childhood. No good intention gone wrong. Just...selfishness. There is an evil that reigns, and we are but slaves.
It's something my brain can hardly accept.
Evil isn't curable. It isn't rational. Sometimes it IS possible to apologize, forgive, change. Grace IS available. But at the same time, we will never purely eradicate evil. We need a bigger cure. Rationality, therapy, love, boundaries, discipline, good parenting, open tolerance: none of these solutions work as a CURE. You can go only so far, and then you've reached the edge of what you can do, and evil people remain unchanged.
I KNOW this. In my heart, I know it. And the more I learn of Christ and the more I read my Bible, I see it too. We are selfish. Sometimes, when I justify others' actions as "a bad decision but they'll do better next time," I'm actually justifying the times when I've been selfish but don't want to admit it. "It's a result of XYZ; if I had ABC, I could fix it. Oh well. For now, I'm sorry. I'll try not to do it again, but you know how it is. I can't help it because I'm damaged..."
Maybe the truth is that I know I'm not strong enough. I know I can't defeat what's in me. So I rationalize and I give excuses. Because a part of me truly does want to be better. Another part of me wants, well, what I want. They're not necessarily bad things, either. Most of the things we want can be good things in the right context--love, acceptance, friends, fun, sex, happiness, beauty, knowledge, thrills--but that only gives us more of an excuse to justify the way we pursue these things selfishly and without regard (or with only partial regard, which is not enough) for the way it will affect others.
The state of affairs in the world is desperate. We will never progress far enough, be enlightened enough, know enough, learn enough, educate enough...to solve all our problems. There will always be more problems. There will be more evil around every corner.
It is precisely the desperate nature of the world that leads me to my greatest joy. We CAN'T cure this. We need a bigger cure. I'm not the first person to say these things: Jesus said them. This is the whole long story of the Bible. People who messed up on purpose and people who messed up when they wanted to do the right thing--honestly, I'm not sure which is more depressing, but both of those people are inside each one of us. We have to fess up to this, or else we will spend our lives pursuing solutions that aren't good enough.
I want to believe in grace so desperately--in forgiveness, in pardons, in change, in justice--because I was programmed to want them. God made us originally as just and beautiful and perfect. I want to believe in grace and forgiveness and change because somewhere deep inside it's what my soul is crying out for.
This is the thirst that Jesus quenches. I want to be forgiven. I want to be changed. In Christ, I have that. And it's not hard work or trying to get somewhere. He conquers the evil inside. The evil that would always be there...He is the bigger cure. He starts me on a journey to a new kingdom. On the way, I will mess up, and He will forgive me, and help me move forward with progress that wasn't possible before, without Him. But with his help, I'll arrive there: the new kingdom that lives not under a reign of tyranny or evil, but under a reign of grace.