In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist act, a variety of responses are observed—some are gripped with horror, some are filled with outrage, and some dissolve into grief. All these are appropriate responses to the senseless intrusion of gruesome evil. All of them have been seen in the aftershock of the bombings in Boston, and this is as it should be.
It’s what happens after the shock has subsided that deserves comment. As pictures of gore and suffering fill our vision, we are forced to revisit our assumptions about human nature. What kind of person would do this? How do we explain such savagery being intentionally visited on the innocent? These questions weigh heavily on those who have chosen to believe in the goodness of humanity. If we credit people as being good, who are naturally inclined to do good, then terrorism wrecks our convictions. The evidence littering Boston’s streets seems to suggest that there is an evil in the heart of mankind.
‘Au contraire! Your perspective is too pessimistic’, some would say. Rather than focusing on the perpetrators of hate, I would be better served by looking at the agents of mercy. After all, those that do good are more plentiful than those who commit harm. Perhaps I should take Mr. Roger’s advice and “Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.” Understood rightly this is good advice, but if it tempts us to turn a blind eye to wickedness it is reduced to wishful thinking.
C.S. Lewis served as a junior officer during World War I and was fortunate to escape the front with his life–he was wounded. What he saw in the trenches of France must have been horrific, but we will never know since he never wrote about the experience. In an effort to find peace, he made a “treaty with reality” and partitioned that episode off from his mind. He chose to ignore his brush with evil. But Lewis discovered that the “treaty” would not hold; reality insisted on encroaching on this thoughts and it demanded an honest assessment. Finally, Lewis had to grapple with the way of the world, and it led him to Christ.
Lewis became a believer when he realized that the Christian faith best explains reality. It offers a way of understanding our experience that accurately corresponds with the way things are. There is no need for a ‘treaty with reality’ since God’s Word correctly explains reality. First and foremost, the scriptures teach us about God, but it also teaches us about ourselves. We learn that the presence of evil in our society can be traced to the human heart. We are born bad—we are all totally depraved. This doesn’t mean that there is no goodness in people; the presence of helpers proves otherwise. The doctrine of total depravity isn’t suggesting that we are all as bad as we could be, it’s saying that there is no part of us that is as good as we should be.
We all have within us the capacity to bind the wounds of victims. Likewise, we all have the capacity to perpetrate acts of horrific violence. We may balk at this claim, but if the shadows in our hearts were given encouragement and opportunity there is no telling what we could do. “There is no one who is good”—Jesus said that!
Yes, there are helpers everywhere and they deserve our thanks, but even their kind efforts are inadequate; their best efforts are no match for the troubles of life. Fortunately there is a helper that has overcome the evils of the world. Jesus came to rescue us from sin and did so by enduring the brutality of the cross and then triumphing over it. He tasted death only to spew it out. Jesus has conquered sin and while it persists in a limited form, for a limited time, we can trust that this suffering will end. The day is coming when Jesus will expunge the evil from our hearts and wipe it from the face of the earth. Through Jesus, all will be made right.
In times of trial we need to look beyond ourselves. A study of the human heart will explain how bombs are made and triggered, but there is no hope to be found within everyman. There is only one that gives hope, his name is Jesus. I have confidence in Jesus’ nature.