Again and again, there’s news of some terrible act of terrorism and my social media streams are full of reactions like: why? what is wrong with people?
And I restrain myself, because I don’t want to be cruel towards people when they’re in pain, and I realise that the moment of shock is not the most tactful time to answer the question literally.
But what I keep wanting to say is: why are you so surprised? did you really think humans are wonderful and full of nothing but goodness and kindness? you’ve lived on this planet for more than, say, ten years and you still find it surprising that humans are capable of doing abominable things to other humans?
I had my car fixed today. I have a nice mechanic, who took the car and checked what was wrong and fixed it. I was grateful that he could. Was I surprised that the car developed a problem? No. It’s a 14-year-old car and it would be surprising if nothing ever went wrong with it. I like my car, but I’m realistic about it.
If I bought a shiny new car and something went wrong straight away then yes, I’d be surprised, and probably angry. But old cars? Yeah, things go wrong with them. That’s normal.
Oh, but surely by 2016 we should have shiny and perfect models that don’t break down and don’t wear out and don’t go around murdering children in playgrounds? Yes, I’m mixing the car metaphor with the reality of humankind’s unkindness. Because I do hear people say stuff like that about people: surely by now we should have learned that violence isn’t the answer? surely by now humanity should have progressed beyond that kind of behaviour? surely by now we should be living in some kind of utopia because surely humanity is supposed to be improving all the time…
But look at us. Look at humanity – look at those around you, look at those further away, look at all the news items that keep showing us again and again that humans are capable of doing really horrible things to fellow humans.
Yes, we are also capable of kindness. It is truly wonderful to me when I see examples of humans being kind to one another, especially when it’s kindness towards a stranger, towards someone you owe nothing to and you’re unlikely to ever see again.
But it’s wonderful to me because I know it’s not the norm.
And now let me go back to what I said a few paragraphs earlier: look at us. look at humanity. look at the people around you, look at the people further away, look at how cruel humans can be – and now look at yourself. for real. look at those moments when you are really angry about something someone has done, those moments when you feel…
not very nice and kind feelings.
Can we be real for a moment here, and acknowledge that this dark thing is there? that we all, each and every one of us, have it in us to be horrible to another person sometimes? to want to hurt someone? to even go ahead and do or say something that we know will hurt another person, because we feel they’ve got it coming?
Even when we’re filled with a righteous sense of injustice and we rage against a terrible thing someone has done, we so often descend to calling them horrible names and wishing vile things on them.
We are not wonderful and perfect and full of kindness. And no, we are not becoming better: we’re just learning and developing more sophisticated ways of killing and hurting other humans.
If you keep being surprised by the evidence – by stuff that actually happens, by things that humans actually do – then maybe your theory needs reviewing. Maybe you need to consider a different narrative, one that fits with the evidence, one that doesn’t keep getting knocked by surprises.
Here’s the narrative I believe in: humans were created by God (who is good and perfect) in God’s own image – that’s where we get the capacity for kindness and compassion. But we rebelled against God and our nature became twisted. Much like my little car, that was lovely and shiny when it came out of the factory but got dented when I tried going the wrong way in a multi-storey car park (long story, new driver in a busy car park, got confused, thankfully the only damage was to my car and to my ego; the bollard was fine, not shaken in the slightest) – we have some remnants of what we were like to start with, but we are not that nice and shiny any more.
Is there no hope then? There is. Jesus is one day going to come back and restore the world to the way it was meant to be, and anyone who believes in him will get to be part of the wonderful, shiny new creation, where there will be none of this horrible stuff – because each person who repents and puts their faith in Jesus gets to be changed, renewed, thoroughly overhauled… I’m not perfect yet, but I’m his work in progress and I’m a lot better than I was when he started working on me. Less selfish, less likely to maliciously hurt others – but I still have my moments. I’m still only human. And I know that there is something wrong with humans – I also know that Jesus is working on fixing it. And who better to go to than the manufacturer himself? He knows how we’re made. He knows us inside out. He is the only one who can fix us.
But thank God he can.