So great were the gains and so sweet the fruits of freedom that we failed to pay attention to the stirring of inner demons poised to wage war on our souls and society. Though the ability to communicate more quickly and efficiently increased, it seems that growing numbers of the members of society felt more and more disconnected. Though inventions and conveniences made time for socializing more readily available than ever, contemporary Americans became one of the loneliest generations to walk the planet. Today, urban violence marches on at a relentless pace, while our safe and secure suburbs are experiencing volatile explosions of mass violence that shake us to the core. No example of this violence has hit us with the ferocity and savagery of last week’s tragedy at Sandy Creek Elementary in Newtown, CT. This abhorrent occurrence has left us struggling to understand and seeking answers. The questions “How? And Why?” abound and the answers seem illusive.
Connecticut defined all that is tranquil and ideal about these United States. That idyllic definition has been shattered by the harsh and cold reality that evil exists. It lurks in every corner of our society no matter how pure and good that corner might seem and it has the ability can strike at will - without warning - leaving death, destruction and mayhem in its path. The great physical pleasures we have enjoyed in our society have anesthetized us to the spiritual realities of the evil that surrounds us. If we address evil at all, the evil we are most willing to acknowledge is largely framed within the context of entertainment and it is personified by characters like “Jason” and “Freddy” or relegated to the most heinous real-life human examples: people like Hitler, Pol Pot, or Bin Laden. This company of villains is universally acknowledged as evil, but they are never viewed as “normal” and are seen as aberrations of the rest of us “good and God-fearing” people.
A more attentive view of the human spirit might give evidence to the contrary. The potential for evil can be found in every fabric of society. More frighteningly, this potential isn’t just confined to the dark corners of society, but even in the secret places of EVERY human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 warns that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Honesty informs us that there are times that even the “good” we do comes from a less than honorable place, whose source is not a desire to achieve good for others, but rather a drive for the promotion of self and the satisfaction of our own need to be acknowledged.
How pervasive is evil? Consider the number of respected and responsible leaders of late - religious, military and governmental – who have thrown away careers and reputations for the pleasure of a sweet liaison they thought would go unnoticed. We are tempted to think, “Well, yes, but is that evil?” Think of the betrayals of trust, the risks to themselves, their loved ones, the nation and communities they served. Most of these leaders are considered not just good guys, but “great guys” anyone would love to have on their team – the most trustable of the trustworthy. Nevertheless, careless moments grew into wreckless indulgences which grew into tragic scandals with many innocent victims. EVIL! We’re tempted to think, “I would NEVER do that! I propose that without careful personal attentiveness, the casual flirt, the engaging look, and the “playful” teasing can easily take flight to become a nightmare scenario of heartbreak we never imagined could really happen to us. EVIL! We are in a desperate situation.
Dealing with our desperation means understanding where the hope lies. The hope for peace, safety and security in our land will not be found in passing laws, mounting soap boxes and demanding freedoms. If hope is to be found, it will come from a transformation of the mind and heart, built on the understanding that the Battle is spiritual at its core. In Matthew 15 Jesus said, “…out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” The problem is inside us. In Romans Chapter 12, the Apostle Paul presents this solution for dealing with the root of the issue: “do not be conformed to this world [the way everybody else does things], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” We need an accurate understanding of just “how bad we can be” knowing that each of us possesses the capability of the manifesting the worst we’ve ever seen in society. Furthermore, we need a firm grasp on the truth that God has the power to transform us from the inside out when we humbly surrender to Him and His ways and walk in community with others who can hold us accountable and help us in our most desperate and anxious times.
Nothing we can do will bring back those beautiful children who suffered such unspeakable horror in Connecticut or ease the pain their families are suffering. Their deaths, however, leave us with an undeniable clarity to what is at stake. If we can embrace the Biblical truth about our natures and acknowledge that we are the keepers of our brothers and sisters, then perhaps we can dislodge ourselves from the outrageous notion we have heretofore practiced in our society: that we have come so far in our sophistication, we can simply live on “autopilot” and let things sort themselves out or let someone else do it for us. If we will apply ourselves to personally pay attention to those troubled souls around us – be they strangers or our closest of kin - and if we can do the work of befriending the lonely, comforting the forlorn, or identifying that ones who are just too troubled to be left to themselves and be willing to face the turmoil of making such a call, then perhaps we can turn the tide! If we are willing to do the grunt work of getting deeply involved in the lives of others and taking the time required to help while suffering the inconvenience to our personal goals and agendas that helping can cause, we just might see some change for the better. One thing is for certain. If we fail to pay attention to these horrible signs of our times, and continue to march in the direction of indifference and apathy, we are certain to continue to suffer; and that suffering will happen much sooner than any prospect we have for once again leaving footprints on the moon. Until next time…