The Thin Line of Evil
The events that transpired on Friday December 14, 2012 occurred in a high level of darkness. The small town of Newton, Connecticut was rocked to her core as a young man became an instrument of death, explosively moving through an elementary school, taking the lives of children, teachers and the woman who brought him into this world. It was a sad day. A day that I could not imagine being the father of three children myself, sending them off daily to the public school system taking for granted at times their safety.
I grieve with those mothers and fathers whose long nights of despair are only beginning. I look everyday at my children and hope they will become men and women who will glorify God in all they do. I look with eager anticipation at all the possibilities that lay within them. It is a journey that I and my wife discuss and look forward to together. The journeys of these grieving parents though will be through this seeming darkness that will be accompanied by hollow condolences, funerals, questions and the realization that they will never be able to see.... what their child could have been.
In the day of the event and the days after, we launched to our media outlets (news, television, social) to opine on everything from gun laws to video games, mental illness to psychopaths and the presence of God to the absence of God. In events such as these, we fail to miss the great thread in all tragedies that exists when a human seeks to impose his or her will on another-it is the thin line of evil.
Where ever you land in regards to the presence of evil in the world, one can not dismiss the fact that evil is present in humanity. My Christian worldview holds me to the firm conviction that evil came into the world as the original man Adam, disobeyed God and that line continued to his son Cain who slew his brother Able. The Christian Scriptures make no attempt to reveal from where evil came from prior to Adam’s cosmic treason. What we are clear on is that Adam introduced this thread into all his offspring. The sacredness of humanity has running through it a thin line of evil.
Now if you do not hold to my position, you are still left with explaining how such evil exists in our world. I would ask the person who holds to evolution “Is such an act simply the strong triumphing over the weak?” If this is merely the cause of a mental defect in an individual, does Freud provide us a substantial understanding of this evil by stating the perpetuator was not taught it is wrong to kill by his parents, so he acted on that impulse?
This is what I do know and what we are fearful to acknowledge; we and the young man in Newton are tied together.
The reflections over the last few days have been subtle and overt. In either case, the theme was the same, “Us versus him.” The thin line of evil only runs through certain persons. It was the same language used on 9/11. It is the same language used in the Israel and Palestine debate. It is the same language that will be used in the next tragedy. For those of us who sit on the side lines, continuing on in our self-made Edens; we should be careful as we are one step away from seeing our paradises become barren waste lands.
The evil of Friday was magnified because it happened at an elementary school. None of us could imagine that five and six year olds would be gunned down in such a violent fashion. The trauma of the moment was enlarged because this was not on a battlefield or urban center but in an elementary school. And because it has been magnified due to these circumstances, we miss that all of us on a daily basis act on that thin line of evil that binds us to the perpetuator in Newton.
The grief that I have seen in the images of men and women coming out of Friday is the grief that I have seen in many other environments. When I have violated my wife’s confidence; I have acted on that thin line of evil. When I have valued my own comfort above that of my children; I have acted on that thin line of evil. When men find greater pleasure in pornography and strip clubs; they have acted on that thin line of evil. When women lie to each other in order to create a false image of themselves; they have acted on that thin line of evil. When landlords fail to improve the living conditions of their tenants; they act on that thin line of evil. When our government misuses power, abuses our finances and punishes innocent civilians for the presence of brutal governments; they have acted on that thin line of evil.
This thin line of evil stretches through all of us. None of us are exempt. There is no “us versus them,” there is only us.
This is so hard because human experience has us create “levels of good” and then there is “evil.” Evil is reserved for cannibals, child molesters, dictators, mass murderers, and men who strap bombs to their chests. We have established two categories for persons to exist and when the “good” category is assaulted; all types of questions and doubts arise. This dualism does not hold true to reality and we need to be honest with ourselves.
What answers then do we have for this thin line of evil that runs through humanity? We cannot ignore it because it will be seen and heard by time you finish this post. Additionally, we cannot lull ourselves into the deceitful thinking that we possess the innate ability to create a society that will be absent of evil. What answers do we have?
The thin line of evil found no place in a Jewish teacher, revolutionary and Savior whose name is Jesus. Jesus teaches that there is no one good except God (Mk 10:18). It is not “us and them” but “us and God.” Why does the thin line of evil find no place in this 1st century teacher who taught love for enemy and who Pontius Pilate said, “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38)? The thin line of evil finds no place in Jesus because his life, death and resurrection demonstrated in certain and real terms, that evil does not have the final word. It is the will of God to deliver us from evil and that evil is found in ourselves.
So where do we go from here? Do we reject the sacredness of our humanity because evil has manifested itself in unspeakable acts? Do we continue to formulate in our minds plans and purpose that will shield us and our loved ones from all the evil that is “out there?”
At this moment, this is where our society is and we as Christians must be thoughtful and courageous enough to demonstrate to our society that the sacredness of humanity can still be embraced; living in such a way that we demonstrate to our society that evil does not have the final word. This is the reality of God’s incarnation which severs that thin line of evil.
It is important that Christians provide thoughtful and loving engagement in all aspects of life. The incarnation of Christ I believe, demands this of his people. God willingly embraced the fullness of humanity by participating in Jewish culture, communicating in its language, rejoicing in celebrations and grieving at funerals. God not only revealed himself in Jesus, a first century Jewish teacher, but he also blessed humanity to look upon his face, in whose image and likeness we were fashioned. God willingly embraced humanity and because of this embrace, humanity discovered not only who God is but also what it means to be fully human.
Humanity is sacred. We all, regardless of our ethnicity, nationality, politics, economics, gender and sexual orientation are all sacred because we are the image bearers of God. God created the universe outside of himself over a period of time and in this creation he placed humanity which is the sole reflection of God. Schaeffer commented that the “reasonableness of the incarnation...turns on this point-that man, as man is created in the image of God.” The God who is personal created a personal humanity that is distinct from all creation. There is a gulf that is fixed between man and plants, man and technology, man and apes; as God presented himself not as one of these, but as one who bore his image and personality. This is the sacred nature of humanity.
This is where our treatment of one another begins. If you spend any length of time with another person then you discover that they possess similar hopes, dreams, struggles and pains as you do. You discover that beyond all the multitudes of cultural varieties, ideas and materials that separate us, we are looking at a family member with whom we share a common ancestor. Laws are built upon this reality whether legislators are willing to ascent to it or not. Our sacred character as humans is why our laws demand that we not steal or covet, lie or murder, disrespect or break covenant. When we violate what is evident in all our relationships or written in legislation; we violate the sacredness of our humanity. We deny our sacred and unique identity.
The incarnation calls us to be fully human. Humanity is called to embrace the sacredness of her character and become what she was supposed to be prior to the arrival of darkness, despair and death. It is the call that Jesus gave to his first century hearers as he embraced not just the despair in which humanity sat but also bringing with him what living, speaking and loving as a human is supposed to be-a reflection of God. Our culture is looking for their question to be answered, “What does it look like to be human?”
This past Sunday, President Barack Obama gave a very emotional speech regarding Newton. Newton in a brief period of time presented to us what humanity becomes when an individual forgets the sacredness of humanity, both in himself and others. President Obama in a small way exhorted his hearers to question whether we are doing enough as humans to guard the sacredness of humanity in which he stated,
” This is our first task -- caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?”
I agree with President Obama in his statement that we will be judged as a society on how we care for our children. But more than that, we will be judged as a society on how we truly sought to protect the sacredness of all humans-American and not. This judgment on society will not only rest with the protection of our children but also how far we are willing to go to value life at all stages, protecting one another from the ideas and actions of those who view life not as sacred but disposable- so that all have “the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose.”
The sacredness of humanity is undeniable in our relationships and legislations. We discover that in the midst of horrific circumstances that our humanness is not only fragile but we discover that it is to be guarded. We are men and women crafted to reflect our Creator, accomplishing astounding acts of love and care with Jesus providing humanity the clearest representation of what being human is to be.
But if humanity is so sacred, if we are image bearers of God, then what explanations do we have regarding the events last week?
 Francis Schaeffer, Verifiable Facts and Knowing from the God Who is There, Crossway, Wheaton, 1990.
 President Barack Obama, Remarks by the President at Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/12/16/remarks-president-sandy-hook-interfaith-prayer-vigil, Dec 16, 2012.
Over the next year CoHO will be moving beyond the borders of the Oakwood Community and establish a work in the community of Brookside. I had always thought the work of God started in Oakwood would just be in Oakwood. (God continually reminds me that I am following his lead).
This move was unlike the original work that began in Oakwood. In Oakwood, I personally responded to God’s call to come to the community and preach Jesus. In what will be our sixth year when this “hope community” is established in Brookside; it is a work that started with the owner knowing about the work in Oakwood and asking us to join his community in 2011. This time, God moved on the heart of another and so we continue to follow God’s movement.
My mentor speaks to me at great length that an organization must have some significant depth before that organization looks at expanding. This decision to move beyond our current community came with a great amount of prayer, care and diligence. Practically, it was necessary, before embarking on this type of move, that I did the due diligence to equip myself and those around me for the work had before us. So below are some steps I have taken in leading the organization in this expansion which really began in 2011. I hope that this will be a help to you in whatever type of organization that you are leading.
INTENTIONALLY STATE THE MISSION OF THE ORGANIZATION
I have been intentional over the last year and a half to state the mission of the organization and have other staff members recite the mission. This was a lesson that I learned when I was in Officer Candidate School. Every Soldier was mandated to know the mission and be able to tell it on a moment’s notice. In this act as well as the one that is to follow, I desire that the men and women around me be of the same mind. We are about the promotion of holistic community renewal in under resourced areas through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take opportunities to share the mission of your organization and assess if the people around you are able to speak and know the mission.
INTENTIONALLY GROUND YOUR STAFF IN THE VALUES OF THE ORGANIZATION
As we expand beyond Oakwood, it will mean having individuals and initiatives spread over a larger area. With this type of growth it will require me to remind the team that what we do is rooted in five specific areas; Gospel, Presence, Advocacy, Education, and Integration. The initiatives or works that will blossom out of Brookside, blossom out of these five stems which spring from the mission. Grounding the staff in the values of the organization once again reinforces not only the people working with one mind but also the organization continuing to be consistent in its activities. If you want to see a great example of this, read the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament which records the renewing work of the people who were of the same mind and were spread across the city of Jerusalem rebuilding the wall.
INTENTIONALLY GIVE MORE AWAY
Do you want to know if this work is about you or something greater than yourself? Judge how much you are willing to give away. Giving more responsibility away means giving more of the credit away. The return on this type of investment in your team though will be profitable for your organization, your team and yourself. As others receive more responsibility, their planning, decision making skills and ability to handle more intense opportunities actually strengthens their capacity to lead. You want to have people who are being challenged and are growing in their capacity to lead in different areas of the organization. Additionally, you are strengthening your own leadership as more opportunities are created for you to observe your team in action and provide helpful critique that will be beneficial for their growth in the long term.
INTENTIONALLY STEP AWAY
Here is another difficult thing for a leader to do. Stepping away means you trust everything to your team in your absence. This past year I intentionally attended a think-tank on churches in under resourced areas in New Jersey that occurred during a week of busyness which included our staff meeting. The result was the organization continued on smoothly. What was I hoping to achieve? I was showing my staff I trusted their wisdom and decision making abilities in my absence. Show your team that you trust them and what you have deposited in them will come to fruition. If you do not trust your team, why do you have them alongside you to begin with?
The above steps require a commitment. You have to make a conscience effort to develop your team for the long term. When big things happen such as acquiring a new facility or expanding into a new area, the day of is not the time to begin the discipleship. Love your team and your organization enough to prepare them months and in this case years in advance as you discern what God is about to do with your organization.