There isn’t anyone who isn’t appalled by something, and we’re often appalled by different angles on the same thing—immigration, abortion, voting rights, even the pandemic response.
And when we’re appalled, we single out the culprits. We know who they are—and we’re better than they are. We would never do that!
Underneath it all, without really examining it, we’re saying—“If I were that person, with his wounds, his fears, his flaws, his beliefs, his emotional history, I would never be doing what he is doing”—which is basically the same as saying—“If I were you, I would be better than you.”
How can that be true?
When we see something appalling, our first assumption—even before “those people are awful”—is “this shouldn’t be happening!”
But is that really true? Can we really know that?
For those who believe that Christ is God, the supreme moment of “this should not be happening” in human history would seem to be the crucifixion.
God became man so man could kill God. Evil slayed virtue. The moral universe was turned upside down.
But is it true to say, “this should not be happening”?
In Chapter 16 in the Gospel of Matthew:
Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
So the unimaginable event unfolded, and Christians believe it was essential to our transformation, our salvation.
Is it possible that the appalling events we see in our society today could be vehicles for our transformation?
What if they help us see our impulse to say, “those people are the problem, they ruin everything!”
What if they help us see how our obsession with the flaws of others makes us miss the hatred rising inside of us?
What if they help us see how the hateful thoughts in our heads hurt us, harm others and undercut the causes we care about?
If the painful events we see in society can trigger these insights inside of us, then maybe the events that we’re convinced “should not be happening” can transform us.
Maybe they are the only things that can transform us.
And maybe then—with forgiveness not vengeance—we can solve the problems that appall us—moving forward with the compassionate understanding that hating anyone harms us, that everyone is born with inherent worth, that we are all more likely to change for the better if we treat each other with dignity, and all more likely to change for the worse if we treat each other with contempt.
Then, maybe we will see that “Love your enemies” is not only the loftiest spiritual teaching ever spoken. It’s also simply good sound practical advice for living a happier life.
Blessed Easter to all.
This essay was featured in the April 4, 2021 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.