What Evil Lurks in the Heart of Man?
"What evil lurks in the heart of man? The Shadow knows!" That was the intro to an old radio show in the mid-20th century. The recent violent tragedy near Denver reminds us that "evil still lurks in the heart of man." In a short period of time, a much anticipated summer movie release became a dramatic stage for a real life drama where innocence and evil collided. Brilliance and evil are sometimes sinister siblings and it seems as if the suspected perpetrator of this bloodbath was both.
The days to come will be filled with the sheer agony of family loss and the 24/7 litany of analyses that will dominate all forms of media. There will be a continuing rise of the rhetorical question as to how something like this could happen in such a public place and, of course, why? There will be other debates over security, gun laws, and our growing concern as to how personal safety can be assured in public places--a debate already being proposed as a necessary part of the current presidential campaign.
People in the Western world continually struggle with the concept of evil. It is a theme relegated to the category of name calling and the vitriolic rhetoric that passes for communication today. Truth be told, modernity desensitized us to the idea of evil, believing somehow that reason would join with civility to outdistance such an uncouth theme as evil. However as C. S. Lewis observed, "We have the strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin." In the Case for Christianity, Lewis said, "Wherever you find a man who says he doesn't believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later."
I do not wish to deprecate the upcoming tsunami of analysis from media and
social analysts. The complexity of a human being, committing the level of violence that has just occurred, necessitates careful study. The empathy for the terror experienced by the victims should be abundant. Compassion should be the order of the day for the unbelievable pain being experienced by families of those killed or wounded.
As a follower of Jesus, I am saddened, but cannot be surprised that evil, such as seen in the last 24 hours, is part of our current experience. Regardless of the brilliant analysis that will certainly come from the experts, I simply believe that human beings are in need of a fundamental transformation that requires divine initiative. The kind of radical transformation that is necessary to deal with the human tendency to live life by our own rules will not be overcome by a well-intended tweaking of the human condition. The natural default position of humans to create a real (or virtual) world with ME at the center is hard to deny.
In East of Eden, John Steinbeck wrote:
I believe that there is one story in the world and only one; humans are caught in their lives, in their hungers and ambitions: in their avarice and cruelty and in their kindness and generosity too-in a net of good and evil. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard clean question: was it good or was it evil? Have I done well or ill?
Steinbeck's observation is a careful human reflection, but the author of the Book of Hebrews framed it long ago in a more eternal dimension: "Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people" (Hebrews 9:27).
Evil is a very real part of the human experience. Followers of Jesus now have a rare opportunity to point to the obvious-the human condition will not be repaired by well-intended self-determination. We need a transcendent resource that has already been clearly offered from Heaven itself. The Apostle John said it this way, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9).
Byron D. Klaus, President
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary