Recently at Marshalls, throw pillows greeted me with embroidered words like “Shine on!” and “Live. Love. Laugh.” In the next aisle, coffee mugs tried to inspire me: “You Are Beautiful!” “Live Your Dream,” and “I Choose Happiness!” As I passed a fellow shopper, her shirt let me know she’s about “Good Vibes Only.” Then when I got home and kicked my feet up on the couch, I was confronted by the latest mass shootings: El Paso and Dayton. By the time you’re reading this, I’m afraid they won’t be the latest ones.
We are living in a twisted irony, my friends.
On one hand, pop culture is praising humans blindly, and on the other, human nature is looking its bleakest. Cute wall-hangings are saying “Follow Your Heart” to charity workers and pedophiles alike. And what makes a heart worth following, anyway? My emotions deceive me multiple times a day (Thank you, Generalized Anxiety Disorder.). Jay Gatsby, the ultimate American literary symbol of “Follow Your Heart”–spoiler alert–gets killed by his own dream.
But this is not solely a critique of “Follow Your Heart.” This is an acknowledgement of the gap between this bright sunny human nature I’m being sold and the pure dark evil I’m seeing in the news.
We want so badly to believe in the goodness of the human heart; because if we don’t have that, then what hope is there? It’s like the more rotten hearts we see, the more we need to be reassured that we’re all beautiful and deserving of happiness. But sayings without discussion are shallow, and the hurt on the news is so profound, so dark, and so universal. When we slow down, the cute, warm, feel-good sentiments fade away. And then it all feels so–hopeless.
So we keep things superficial. We don’t dig too deeply into our beliefs because we might disturb our shallow “feel good” root system. But what sort of lives are we living if we aren’t living up to our own intellectual integrity? Ignorance is not bliss; it is a numbed, dulled-down existence. A failure to carpe diem. It’s nice to believe–for instance–that what goes around comes around, but when tragedy strikes the innocent, that truism crumbles. It’s nice to believe that human nature is good, but if we’re all created equal, then how could someone made of the same good stuff as me shoot up an elementary school?
When I teach Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, I ask my class, “Is Abigail Williams a ‘bad’ person?” (She’s basically the worst) I follow it with, “What makes a person ‘bad’? Where’s the line?” I am always met with silence. Because where do we draw the line? Are we to be the judges? I propose that the line is drawn far above us, at the Divine. And in light of Perfection, none of us is “Good.”
But pop culture wants us to be happy, and the happiest belief is that we all have beautiful hearts that are perfect just the way they are. But what happens when that belief meets murderous bigotry? The important dialogue begins: If school shooters just didn’t play those video games, if they just were treated more nicely, if we just made it harder for them to be empowered with firearms–then their goodness would shine like it should. So we struggle and debate about how to fix those external elements so pure evil won’t happen again. And that is a noble and critical task. How important it is to protect the innocent, to labor towards God’s will being done “on Earth as it is in heaven.” Murder is certainly not His will.
But even if we were to fix all the circumstantial factors to our liking, tragedies wouldn’t stop. Teaching social studies this year, I was reminded that long before the invention of the gun, mass evil was executed by the human heart. It’s not guns–it’s power. Dictators, monarchs, tyrants, corrupt religious leaders, and slave-owners the world over have killed millions, maybe billions historically speaking. Babies have been drowned and burned, innocent women stoned to death, genocide upon genocide… The problem isn’t the gun itself–it’s what the gun magnifies–it empowers the evil streak inherent in our human DNA. Each of us has it. And it has made a mess of God’s good world.
C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity why it can be hard for us “good” people to see that propensity for evil in our own hearts (I did a little paraphrasing):
“A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those ‘bad people’ who are always being tripped up by inappropriate sexual urges, or rage, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice person and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need to achieve any higher goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered.”
The news is shattering our self-satisfaction, and ignorant bliss is preventing us from addressing the real problem inherent in our human nature. Healing and wholeness only starts when we allow ourselves to deal honestly and brutally with the reality of our limited “goodness”, not only on a universal level, but on a personal level too.
We are not the ultimate source of Goodness or Love. I can’t save myself. While we are created in the image of our perfect and loving Creator, we have been allowed free will, and with it, we have “all fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)
C.S. Lewis warns us, “If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature [or your well-nurtured up-bringing], and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel…” Our human nature longs for its Creator. We were made to live in a real relationship with Him, but that was broken the minute the first people (s/o Adam and Eve) decided their way was better than God’s. We still think that way. That is our human nature–we reflect the beauty of our Creator, yet are soiled by our selfishness. Capable of selfless sacrifice and selfish slaughter, we are complicated creatures.
Yet we are still loved by that same Creator that we turn against. So loved, in fact, that He sent his Son into our world, put on human flesh and took on the human heart Himself. He lived perfectly because He is love. And when He sacrificed His life on the cross, He died with a pure heart without any sin of His own. He was therefore able and willing to take on all of our darkness and gunk and sin, destroying it in the grave. And when he rose again, our sin was done away with, leaving us pure and able to live in a beautiful relationship with our Creator–life as it was intended to be lived.
Embracing this Truth is the only way to treat our human problem at its root. We need to go to the real source of selfless Love, which my friends, as lovely as you are, is not you. It is Jesus.
#sermonover ❤ Love to you all