I have been reading some horrendous newspaper articles recently about sex abuse, and murder. It is not pleasant reading. In fact it is very disturbing. One man hung himself in his prison cell recently and now the investigation finds that he used to take girls from their trusting and ambitious parents telling them he was from a modeling agency. Carrying the girls to a hotel he drugged them, abused them, and filmed the whole thing.
Another man deliberately left his child in a hot car so the child would die while he was exchanging sex pictures over the internet with someone. He didn’t want his own child but he did want more virtual sex. Out of revenge another man shot a child in front of the child’s father so it would be the last thing the father would see before he himself was shot. The child died but the father is still alive, though wounded. Yes, I would agree that these are some sick puppies, not to insult puppies. Crimes against children are especially sad and infuriating. How could anyone do such things, why would anyone do such a thing? I am sorry to recount these stories but I have a point and they illustrate the point they drive me to make. My point is that there is a very old fashioned idea to explain all of it, and it is depravity. One might say, “yes, those men were depraved.” Or, “those were acts of depravity.” No, that is not what I mean. I am saying that all human beings are depraved and sometimes that depravity breaks through in horrible and public displays of evil. This is an idea many people do not like, and of course it may feel like a personal insult. Yes, I just called you the reader depraved, and I am confessing myself to be so as well. No, I am not saying all of us will do such things as the news stories recite, but it takes no prophet to say that such things will happen again, and again, and again. Educated, civilized, and living in a country with clear laws against such behavior doesn’t seem to stop it. Understanding the background of abusers, or criminals. or sexual and homicidal perversions hasn’t yet been able to help us prevent it. The military has striven over the last decade or so to prevent sexual harassment and abuse, especially as its culture and population has changed to include many more women and now openly homosexual service members. It has stressed professionalism, it has tightened regulations, it has had briefings after briefing, seminar after seminar, focus groups, and public investigation. From generals on down the ranks continue to give way to sexual lust, and people use their power to leverage sex from subordinates. How could such things keep happening? How could such a worldly wise organization be so naive about people? My comments do not reflect despair or hopelessness. I am glad we are all more than our depravity, but we are that and we need to own up to it. I do think this is a realistic appraisal. The only thing I despair over is our persistent run to denial in the face of human nature. It is silly and stupid in my opinion to think that Law stops sin or crime. Obviously we budget for prisons because we know that just saying “no” or “don’t do that” does not prevent people from “breaking bad.” The current wave of Islamic wars, Sunni versus Shia, Islamic radicals versus everyone, and most war in general tends to expose how evil people can get in attempting to strike terror in the hearts of their enemies, or simply the desire to hurt and dehumanize them. For those who are more theologically astute the idea of depravity is usually associated with Calvinism. It has to do with the inability of human beings to believe in God unless God has mercifully chosen them to believe and then gives them the ability to believe through his Spirit. Those who don’t like the idea of God choosing who gets saved can have a hard time accepting the idea of a spiritual depravity that makes them essentially “dead” to God and “dead” in sin. Depravity is more than the tragedy of human inability to will themselves to God, which is pretty terrible I agree. It is also about the pervasiveness of wickedness in each human, and the potential for disaster in that sinfulness. No matter how professional, no matter how scientific, no matter how aware, we carry the problem inside us. We have several ways of dealing with human depravity. As I have mentioned there is denial, which is quite prevalent, but usually is laid as a foundation disconnected from harsh newspaper stories. It is more closely associated with human achievement, human kindness, the sweetness of family, the innocence (we think) of children, the noble aspirations of achievers and benefactors. We think the best of ourselves, and we lay this down as a working assumption about people. If people are depraved how could goodness exist? This is one reason I am not in despair about it. I do accept the reality of goodness in the world, certainly beauty, and an amazing proliferation of God’s common grace coming through and from all kinds of people. Sometimes even the worst of people does something good, on a given day, and hopefully it’s your day when you meet them. Generally we all act in public as if other folks will obey the law, tell us the truth, not be cruel or predatory to us. We buttress ourselves against depravity. We try education, we try sociological and psychological analysis, we try law, we try police, we try prisons, and we try to train ourselves and our children to be “street smart,” and some of us go armed. The danger comes when we make too many assumptions about how that education, our historical and statistical summations, the threat of judicial punishment, the current political correctness against bullying and abusive behavior will all actually protect us from the monsters who turn out to be people who look an awful lot like us. Sometimes those “monsters” think they have a good reason for what they do (such as in politics, war, or ethnic and class conflict,) and sometimes their perversions, their lust and greed, hatreds, and addictions drive them. As a Christian I have realized the grace of God enables me to be more than my depraved nature, and even more than the generally positive personality I might have inherited. That possibility drives me to share the Gospel even with really evil and bad people, which in my mind includes everyone and not just felons and known public enemies. I am not paranoid about people, but I am careful. I love myself, but I am careful about myself, for I know that in my sinful nature there dwells no good thing. I want my children to be trusting, and absolutely wise and careful. I want my daughter to be free to drive at night, and not wear a veil, and enjoy the freedom of an American woman. I also want her to know that no matter what the society says women should be free to do there is enough evil in the world, in men and in all people, that she is condemned to be careful. So are we all, ever since the sin came, and hasn’t left.