When evil rears it's familiar face

They couldn't have done that.

Evil is so much easier to deal with when the face of it is unfamiliar. Let me unpack that a bit…

There was a time where I thought ever serial killer was a white man. That thought was totally destroyed when John Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested for the murders of 17 people in the Washington, D.C. area. I remember specifically looking at the face of Lee Boyd Malvo and thinking … he isn’t much older than I am… he looks like a kid who i’d go to school with. He can’t be a serial killer.

And much like many people who were born in the 80’s and 90’s, I thought the face of “terror” in this age was a brown one wearing a turban … and then I saw Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people in a Navy yard in Virginia in 2013. This man also looked like me and it wasn’t until the media released his picture that there was any possibility that he was a black man in my mind.

It is so easy for us to completely disconnect ourselves from the evils of this world by thinking that people like us aren’t capable… so we don’t even give it a thought. Until it happens. Until we turn on the television and see the man or woman who looks like ourselves … or our kids … our parents, uncles, aunts, cousins … the guy we sat next to in Chemistry … the girl that we see at the drive thru. When we see that this is the person who has committed an act of violence, hate or terror … our hearts not only anger but they drop. I’m not sure why this is but I have a theory…

We are most protective of ourselves ... and those in our image.

As human beings, we naturally gravitate towards people that we think we can identify with. Our identity is one of the greatest points of pleasure and pride, especially when it is reinforced. When we see and meet people who are similar to us, it reinforces our thoughts about ourselves. So when good things, success or good favor is attributed to a person who we are similar to happen, we subconsciously create that possible reality for ourselves. Adversely, when a person who looks like us is shameful, evil or wicked we tend to shy away from addressing their faults as hastily. Again, I can only theorize why this is so but I believe that thinking negatively about others who have similarities to us brings a bit of negative thought to ourselves.

“How could they do that?" is sometimes “I’d never do that, so how could they?”. “Let’s wait and get the full story” is sometimes “I don’t want to believe that someone like them could have done this.” All of this is partiality. It’s favoritism. Yes… favoritism is negative… but it’s also natural. We most often shy away from the heinous thoughts and punishments for people who are like us and fight for the most heinous for people who aren’t like us … because of favoritism.  The same things happen with our families. Have you ever looked at the family of someone who was guilty without a shadow of a doubt and wonder… “How are they still fighting for them.” It’s because we naturally look to preserve, protect and promote what’s like us and come down on what isn’t. Ever wonder why Jesus calls the disciples to call their brethren to repentance while never instructing them to try and convince mere strangers. It’s my thought that it’s because it’s a lot harder to see the wrong (and call it out) of the person who you can identify with.

Our innate bias has the power to disrupt justice but in the heart of a person who knows Christ, it should create a clear sign of an internal spiritual war. 

Self says they deserve mercy.

Spirit says they deserve wrath.

The gospel says both!

In the gospel, we are given a God that is eager to enact JUSTICE but just as eager to provide MERCY. Jesus identifies with us but doesn’t fall to the sin of favoritism … instead he establishes an order of openness to people of all areas of life (Hebrews 4:15; Romans 2). And most of all … the gospel turns the “I can’t believe they did that” or the “That could never be me” into the reality that all of humanity is hateful, divisive and selfish. The gospel doesn’t cover up the idea of evil but it is more honest about it than we would ever be… saying that the entire world is ruled by it … yet it won’t prevail against those that are his.(1 John 5:19)

The best way to deal with the sinfulness of those who have similar faces is acknowledging the reality of how wretched sin is and that without a Savior, we have the ability to be just as evil. If that person is near us, call them to repentance as a brother or sister in Christ. If they are not near … pray for their soul and the people they have offended. The Christian should never get in the habit of saying “those people” but should always meditate on the truth that the Apostle Paul uttered to the Corinthians….

…Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11, ESV)

Until I acknowledge that without the grace of God that I can be just as hateful and self-centered as the white supremacist, terrorist, dictator or rapist … I have not truly grasped the depths of my own sinfulness… and I’ll have a problem fully understanding the magnitude of the work of the Cross.

Byron L. Cogdell