Jesus Doesn’t Think You’re a Good Person
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
One of the many things that draws me to Christianity is its honesty. Jesus and the writers of Scripture have a way of looking at life that never sands down the rough edges. I’ve heard people remark that Christianity is a crutch, but honestly— sometimes it’s more like a bat to the face. For example, Christianity insists that you’re a bad person. Yes, you. I know you bought groceries for your grandma yesterday, and help underprivileged children learn math on Wednesdays, and still carry around the Bible that your mom gave you in the fifth grade. Even so, Jesus doesn’t think you’re a good person.
Christianity may be the source of this radically offensive idea, but deep down, everyone knows it’s true. William Golding, when asked about the motivation behind writing his book The Lord of the Flies said, “It was simply what seemed sensible for me to write after the war when everyone was thanking God they weren’t Nazis. I’d seen enough to realize that every single one of us could be Nazis.” A lot of courage is required to pen a reflection like that. Most people don’t have it. Most people want to stay ignorant to their own capacity for evil. It’s easier that way.
Even self-professed Christians who regularly recite “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” get a little squeamish at being told that their name is on the naughty list, right alongside Hitler, the terrorists in ISIS, and that politician whose picture you throw darts at in your office. But while people everywhere are avoiding the truth about their own depravity, you’ll notice that it’s the artists who usually just can’t let themselves do it. The indie songwriter Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about John Wayne Gacy Jr., the serial killer known as the “Killer Clown,” which chronicles his sick escapades of rape and murder. One of the more chilling details of Gacy’s life was the way he would hide his victims’ bodies beneath his house. Cheery, I know. But as the song reaches its close, Stevens hits you in the face with a bat (if I may reuse the image), softly singing these ominous lines: “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards, for the secrets I have hid.”
At first, it seems right to sketch out these clear categories with “those really evil guys” on one side, and the rest of us, who may do some bad things but “mean really well” on the other. But you’re not better off for obscuring the truth like that. Your inability to face reality won’t make it go away. Next time you find yourself reflecting on the evil in Iraq or the Gaza Strip or in Ferguson, stop and think before you call out to the universe, or heaven, or whatever you believe is out there for justice to rain down. Because you’re actually calling for justice to rain down on your own heart. There’s evil there too. You just have to be honest enough to face it.