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.