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If You Knew Me, You Would Say Much Worse

"An ISIS-inspired terrorist plowed into a group of seven bicyclists in Tajikistan on July 29, killing four of them. Two of the four killed were Americans, Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, both 29, who had quit their jobs to embark on a biking tour of the world in July of 2017. Friends told the media that the couple wanted to meet new people and see new places, and that they had a strong belief in the goodness of human nature. 'People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil,' Austin wrote. 'I don't buy it.' He called evil 'a make-believe concept.'"
(WORLD Magazine, September 1, 2018)

Jay and Lauren weren't alone in this belief. In fact, the recent Ligonier Ministry's survey found that over 50% of self-proclaimed evangelicals believe "Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature."

If the oil light in your car goes on, you can cover it up with a piece of tape, but your engine will eventually explode. If the doctor says 'cancer,' it doesn't really matter how fine you feel, you can only ignore it for so long.

And you can fervently believe that people are 'good by nature,' but the terrorists will still be plowing over bicyclists.

We live in a world where I have to make five-year-olds practice hiding in a closet in case someone wants to shoot them at school. And then I have to turn right around and do scheduling gymnastics so that one of those same five-year-olds isn't left alone in a room with an adult during her piano lesson. The closet seems safe, until it's not.

I'd like to divide the world into heroes and villains, with me as a hero, of course. I'd like to think that I would run into the burning building or offer to scuba dive (if I knew how to scuba dive) into the caves to save the young boys. It's true there is something in human nature that rises to the occasion when the world needs a hero. Except, we're kind of confused on what a hero is. A lot of Americans thought the guys who dropped bombs on Japan were heroes, but the Japanese thought otherwise. For that matter, a lot of people thought those guys who flew planes into buildings were pretty heroic as well.

Apparently the definition of heroism is pretty murky.

It is, however, a whole lot easier to see the evil out there than it is to see it in here. I mean, I would never kidnap a child to be a slave or rip open a pregnant woman or use human skin in science experiments. I would never machete my neighbor's head or toss a disabled baby into a field or prostitute myself. I am, after all, a good person.

That is, as long as I am well-fed, well-rested, and feeling safe, fulfilled, and relaxed.

So if I figuratively bite someone's head off when I am feeling the least bit tired, anxious, hungry, or stressed, what makes me think I wouldn't be capable of the atrocities that revolt me? After all, I am of the same blood and bones as the the people who did (or do) commit such things.

Why then are we so very reluctant to acknowledge the sinful nature of mankind? Pick up a history book--any history book--and see how many times the oppressed, when given the opportunity, become the oppressors. Is it power that corrupts? Or is it possible that the corruption is already inside of us, just waiting for the right set of circumstances? That's them, not me, we tell ourselves. But why? Why do we think we are any different?

And therein lies the heart of the matter. If we acknowledge the depravity of them, we must therefore acknowledge the depravity within. It's much easier to just believe that we are all 'good by nature.' Because I know I'm really not that different from other people. So if I believe they're good, then I can believe the same about myself.

We would rather cover up the oil light or ignore the cancer than believe the truth.

So we remain so hopeful. I'm only grumpy when I don't have my coffee. My life will be better as long as I ignore the toxic people in it. Surely my child wouldn't be capable of that, right? Surely that horrible thing won't happen to my family, my city, my country....right? Surely we just need to lock up the bad guys, and then we'll all be safe and happy.

But these days, we all know what happens next. As soon as we set our sights on the next "model of goodness"--be he pastor or doctor or judge or actor--it's just a matter of time before we find him down in the mud.

When will we learn? Why is it so hard to just admit that even though we may not be as evil as we could be all of the time, all of us are capable of far more evil than we want to admit?

Or maybe it's because of the severity of the solution. It's one thing to stop at Walmart and buy five quarts of oil, it's another thing when the doctor says, "You have a good chance of surviving, but it'll take a year of chemo." So when God tells us that the solution to our sin is found in surrendering our lives to Jesus, sometimes we would rather just cover up the oil light.

I get why those who want nothing to do with Jesus choose that option. But why....why, why, why do those of us who supposedly have tasted the sweetness of his grace, why do we believe the same way?

Christians should be the ones who understand the depravity of sin, so why do we continue to assume our leaders are above it? Why do we treat our Christian reputation as a crystal glass, something that we must continue to shine and polish and look pretty, while allowing rot to fester within? And when that rot comes to the surface, why do we hide it? Why on earth do we hide it?

We have the answer! We have the answer! We've been able to give the Sunday School answer since we were five years old: "Jesus died for our sins," and yet we don't live like it! 

If Jesus died for our sins, then we have nothing to hide. When sin comes to the surface, we have no reputations to protect. We have no one to blame. We have no excuses. We don't need them! We can acknowledge with sincere gravity that our nature is evil....and that's why Jesus died.

We don't minimize the consequences, because we recognize that evil is real and we must advocate for justice. But we also always have hope of redemption. As much as we push for consequences, we don't force the sinners to grovel forever in the mud, because we know there is hope in Jesus for any sinner.

Of course, grace feels scandalous. What? There's grace available even for those monsters? Won't that allow them to just keep doing it? But Paul anticipated that argument in Romans 6: Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Swimming in a sea of grace doesn't mean that we have license to revel in sin. We root out sin--in ourselves, in our churches. Not as a means of controlling people. Not as a witch hunt; not in order to beat others over the head with it. But because we know it's there. And we can't deal with it by denying it's existence.

What we often forget about these truths is that there is incredible, extraordinary freedom in understanding both sin and grace. The more I understand my sinful nature, the more I am living in reality. I am not surprised by how other people act or how I act. I am not disillusioned by what others are capable of.  I have freedom from shame. Freedom from the fear of discovery. Freedom from the weight of what other people think of me.

L.E Maxwell wrote, "The next time someone reproves you, just say, 'You don't know half the truth. If you knew me you would say much worse.' This may help you into harmony with the Cross. It will at least be the truth."

Sin and grace are symbiotic. The more we are aware of our sin, the more heavily we sink into grace. The more we sink into grace, the more we hate our sin. And that's what gives us the catalyst for true change.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see.

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