My new book project launched me this morning into Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, where in 1:19-32 the apostle confronted me with the profound truth that even though people know the reality of Creator God, they nonetheless refuse to acknowledge him, and indulge themselves in the worst kinds of depravity.
Moments later, I am reading a Hindustan Times news article about a young woman in Delhi, India, who is fighting for her life after being brutally gang-raped on a bus, and her male companion savagely beaten, as the vehicle drove through the city’s streets. The Dec. 18 Wall Street Journal carried a first-person article by a single woman in Delhi who is both angered and terrified by the incident. She wants to live her non-traditional, Western-style life in peace and hates that the streets of her city are unsafe even for women accompanied by a man.
Rivers of (digital) ink about “the problem of evil” have been flowing in the United States since a young man slaughtered 20 children and six adults at an elementary school Dec. 14. The appalling attack in Delhi reinforces the painful truth: The human heart, though we prefer to think otherwise, is a dark, dark place. If a person thinks he can get away with it, he will do what he wants.
The “problem of evil” is not questioning why a loving God would allow bad things to happen. The problem of evil is why otherwise ordinary people choose to follow their dark impulses — and what does it take to create a society where people choose to do good instead?
When evil takes on flesh — Adam Lanza in Newtown or the rapist thugs in Delhi — our leaders instinctively call for the same tired, ineffective measures humanity has been implementing for millennia. For some, justice is about punishing evildoers, and Delhi’s halls echo with threats of dire consequences for the wicked accused. For others, justice is more about well-being — accomplished with more laws and better enforcement. In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, everyone from city councilmen to the President is rushing to beef up gun control and mental health laws.
What we want is for people to be good — and not just the Adam Lanzas and Delhi rapists of the world. We want our neighbors and co-workers to be good. We want our children’s teachers and our civic leaders to be good. We want to be good ourselves — stronger than the everyday selfish temptations that are always getting the better of us.
Secular-minded “progressive” people puzzle over how stubborn a problem evil is in the human heart. Politicians and pundits who put their faith in governmental problem-solving can only blame wrong-headed opposers for their failures.
The truth is far simpler: We don’t need more and better methods of fixing wicked, selfish people. We need new people with new hearts.
The solution also is ridiculously simple: We need to go back to the point where our problem began, as Paul says in Romans 1, in our refusal to acknowledge Creator God for who he is and give him thanks. Do we want people to be dead to evil and live for what is right? Do we want to see all these old things gone and everything made completely new? Don’t start scripting a new episode of Law & Order. Humility before God and gratitude for his offer of new life is the place to start.
Unfortunately, transformation can’t be delivered from the top down. The law kills, and more laws only kill you deader. The politicians can’t deliver on their promise of hope and change. New communities where justice reigns are made up of new people — and that happens one heart at a time. A dark house is filled with light, room by room.