Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Shocker (an Advent Rumination)

"It's official," a friend posted online yesterday, "Dick Cheney is evil."

He linked to an article titled, "Dick Cheney Defends the Torture of Innocents" about interrogation techniques used by the CIA.  I didn't read the article.  I just sighed at the shocking-but-not-so-shocking mention of more accusations and inhumanity.  And then I closed my laptop and climbed the stairs for bed.

For some reason I awoke at 4:34 AM, and those six words sprang to mind again: It's official.  Dick Cheney is evil.

Only this time, it was not a sigh that followed but the memory of a jarring indictment from Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked."  Then John 3:19, "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."  And Psalm 53, "Together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one."

All of a sudden I was wide awake and forced to admit it: I am Dick Cheney.  My friend could have just as well broadcast to the world, "It's official.  Karisa Clark is evil."  And it would have been true.  Utterly, undeniably true.

The shocker in all of this is not that man is evil.  A thirty-second dose of any evening news show is proof enough.  Wars, greed, degrading speech, the careless snuffing out of human life.

The shocker is not even that I am (and you are) evil.  Probe the corners of your heart with even a small measure of honesty and you'll be forced to admit with me that the dark stuff of sin is, on an individual level, very, very real.

No, the shocker is not the darkness around us or the darkness inside us.  The real shocker is the Light.

It is this: "The Light shines in the darkness" (John 1:5).

And it is this: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

And it is gloriously this: "God sent forth his Son... so that he might redeem" (Gal. 4:4-5).

This Redeemer did not leave us without hope, caught in the reverseless spiral down into our own wretchedness.  He did not wait for us to come to him, for we could not.  He came to us.

He who is holy, he who is wholly Other, emptied himself of his glory and took the form of a servant.  He dwelled with us, he died for us, and he raised us with himself.  This is what should stagger us.

If you do not shake your head in utter disbelief at least once every Christmas, I'm afraid you are missing the whole point.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor, ornery people like you and like I?
This Christmas, I wish peace for the world; I wish goodwill and compassion to replace accusations and inhumanity.  But for you, my friend, I wish you most of all: complete astonishment at Jesus, Emmanuel.


  1. You're a wordsmith. You know words mean something. You use them well.

    You can say that you and Isaiah and Dick Cheney are "undeserving" of the grace of the Lord God Almighty Who is "Holy, Holy, Holy," and the Salvation that appeared in that manager in Bethlehem.

    But if you're talking about the kind of torture that took place in Guantanamo, and someone says "Dick Cheney is evil," you can't then say "Karisa Clark is also evil."

    Because words mean something.

    Knowing what Dick Cheney knows about what went on in those dungeons, you wouldn't lie about it, you would cry about it. The word "evil" cannot apply to both of you at the same time and in the same way.

    There is a chasm between fallen men and our Creator which we cannot bridge. Your post eloquently describes the doctrine of "Justification."

    What I'm trying to describe is the doctrine of "Sanctification." If you were President you wouldn't cover up, justify, or obfuscate our sins; you would tearfully declare a National Day of Repentance.

    The Christian historian Lord Acton was right: "Power corrupts. Great men are almost always bad men."

  2. Kevin, point taken. There are degrees of evilness, and some men/acts are more "profoundly immoral, harmful, or unpleasant" than others. The focus of this post is vertical: relative to holy God, we are all "profoundly immoral, harmful, or unpleasant." It's part of the definition of being human, this side of Eden. Since we're talking doctrines, this one is Total Depravity.

    And you're right: this post doesn't deal with the flip side. I have the capacity for profound wickedness, but I now also have the capacity to repent, to do good and to please God. Although I am depraved human, I am also born again, made new, clothed in Christ's righteousness, and being conformed to his image. Such grace!—it will be the theme of my song for all eternity.

  3. The subject is torture, and Karisa Clark says, "I have the capacity for profound wickedness." Everyone who knows her winks at that utterly improbable juxtaposition, recognizing such a doctrinal confession as de rigueur in our circles; a kind of "inverted pious boasting" (that's the best phrase I can come up with at this hour).

    But this article suggests it may be true. I trust you've heard of Stanley Milgram's experiments in the early 1960's.

    I've never met you or Dick Cheney, but I suspect the three of us share a "respect for authority" and "patriotism" which is larger than most in our day. And in a terrifying way, that makes your admission more true of people like us than I'm comfortable contemplating.

    "But for the grace of God . . . ."


Your turn. What do you think?