A few weeks ago, my pastor shared this story: in the early 1900s, a British newspaper posed the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Well-known author and theologian G.K. Chesterton reputedly replied, “Dear Sirs: I am.” In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller writes of Chesterton’s response, “That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”
I think it’s all too easy to turn our focus outward, to pinpoint one person or organization or movement as the cause of the greatest evil. No doubt certain people and organizations and movements behave with more apparent evil than others. No doubt we are right in feeling disgusted and disturbed when “the bad guys” gain the upper hand. But I cannot help but reflect on what Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
If you’ve spent any amount of time in the Church, you are no doubt familiar with the stories of Jesus casting out demons. One of the most interesting, in my mind, is a tale related in Mark of a demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs, ostracized from society because “no one was strong enough to subdue him.” When Jesus meets this man, He asks his name, and the man chillingly replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
C.S. Lewis appropriates this story in Surprised by Joy, which is the autobiography of his early life as an atheist and subsequent conversion to Christianity. When he comes to the brink of accepting what the Gospel declares about fallen humanity and Jesus’s salvation, he writes, “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.”
The closer I get to Christ, the more I’m made aware of how broken I truly am, how short I fall of the glory of God. Becoming a Christian is like being a peeled onion: just when you’ve let God rid you of one layer of hatred and loathing, another one with even thicker skin is uncovered. I know more of who and what I am now than before I knew Jesus, and consequently, I know more of humanity at large. I think this is why I am rarely surprised when the world is unfair, when bad things occur, when evil—though it will not win the war—sometimes wins the battles.
As far as I can see it, the worst thing mankind ever did was crucify our Savior, and God worked that evil out to become our highest good. Nothing else we do as individuals or a society will ever compare, which means there is no earthly situation that lies beyond redemption. It also means that all of us, every one, have blood on our hands. And if the Son of God could say of those who were in the midst of nailing Him to the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” then we are without excuse for the ways we so terrorize and refuse to forgive one another.
I know many people who find the Bible’s teachings about loving one’s enemies hard to swallow. But it’s important for us to remember that Jesus and the early Christians lived in a time of political tyranny so immense that it penetrated every sector of their lives. There were no such things as protests. If you disobeyed, even disagreed, you died. Without trial, without question. There are many parts of the world where this is still the case, even parts of our own country that are tipping towards this reality. To me, this seems like all the more reason to do as Jesus instructed.
In Romans 12:20, Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Paul concludes the chapter with this: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” One thing that has always stood out to me about Jesus is His unwillingness to pay heed to people who are cemented in the safety of their myopic points of view, how instead He stoops to those who are broken, unwanted, unloved—for those are the people who know how deeply they need a Savior.
What is wrong with the world today? Dear friends, I am. And it is one of many reasons I strive to live with compassion towards my fellow humans, regardless of what it is they have to say. Regardless of whether or not I agree. I recognize my own part in sin’s terrible story, and it is why I cling to the hope of redemption that only Christ offers. In Him, we are made new, and so I begin each morning with the prayer of The Imitation of Christ: et da mihi nunc hodie perfecte incipere, quia nihil est, quod hactenus feci. Grant me today to make an unflawed beginning, for I have done nothing yet.