(photo credit: Nick Walker)
The word “kill” leaves us cold. For all of us it brings something vivid to mind. Something we are eager to shy away from.
In my more unreasonable moods, my mind goes to the tune of Video Killed the Radio Star… an old song that came out around the time I was born. It was a time of intense turmoil and shifting global realities. The Vietnam War had just ended a few years earlier and the Cold War was in full swing. In Iran the revolutionary leaders had just shut its doors to Western influence and in China the government had just instituted the “one child” policy to deal with its exploding population. Newer forms of technology were quickly replacing existing ones and all the while there was a vague sense that time itself was speeding up. It was the dawning of a new age – but this new age bore little resemblance to the promising one pictured in so many hippie-era song lyrics of peace and harmony where people “smiled on their brother” or tried to “love one another right now”.
Sadly, even on the day that this blog post is being published there is a mood of mourning as we hear news of another tragic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that have left so many families with tears on their faces as they bury their dead. When these bloody conflicts happen, the first thing we want to know is who is to blame. We become experts at establishing blame when it is someone else’s problem. So often we would prefer to solve other people’s problems rather than engage with our own. Other people’s grief is much more manageable than our own. The 24-hour news channels can give us a round-the-clock feast of distraction serving up tragedies and dilemmas around the world.
Focusing on these global issues are not a negative thing in and of themselves, but when we find we would rather talk about the conflict in a distant country more than the tension that exists under our own roof, there is a problem. There is a story about a newspaper in London once advertising the question, “What is wrong with the world?” and several of their readers wrote in answers including G.K. Chesterton who wrote, “Dear Sirs:
GK Chesterton really pinpoints here something that we don’t often have the courage to face – the reality that in us lies the same sin nature that has so distorted the face of the world and its relationships. It is not “us” and “them”. It is only “us”. We are all in the same boat. We see in others what we cannot see in ourselves. They are our own mirror reflecting back to us our worst fears about ourselves. And no matter how much our world advances technologically or global dynamics shift, we still are left with ourselves.
I once read an article called the Revenge of Conscience which zeroed in on the fact that we cannot put off the verdict of our conscience forever. The scripture says that God has written His laws on our hearts so that we cannot say we did not know right from wrong. When our conscience judges us to be in the wrong we usually deal with the accusation in one of two ways – either we convince ourselves that we are in the right because of a unique set of circumstance or we must put to death the standard itself or those who uphold the standard. This is what happened in the first murder ever committed in the history of the world. Cain killed his brother once he realized that Abel’s obedience to God’s standard put his own performance in a bad light.
Of course his reaction sounds extreme in our ears. He didn’t have to kill his brother, did he? “I would certainly never do that.” I say self-righteously. But just today I walked in to the apartment and my sister caught sight of me coming in the door and immediately began scolding me for turning off the air conditioning earlier in the day. I felt ambushed and unjustly criticized and at once I turned the guns of accusation back on her. “Why had she brought up the issue the moment I had stepped inside without any greeting?” I fumed. “And if she felt that way why didn’t she tell me a specific temperature that she wanted the AC kept on? Why did she make such a big deal about it anyway when last summer the AC often hadn’t worked at all.” I could have gone on and on with my words of blame aimed at my sister so that I could soothe my own wounded pride. But I heard the injured tone in my voice and I stopped abruptly and headed for the solace of the kitchen to think of what had trigged such an emotion-laden response from me over something as silly as whether the AC was “on” or “off”.
There is a common idiom in English for this act of blame shifting – we call it “throwing so-and-so under the bus”. We are willing to kill others with our words, our silences, and our body language so that we can save face – our pride resting content in the knowledge that we would do nothing worthy of such censure.
Ecclesiastes 3 says that there is “A time to kill…” and I believe that can speak to the choice we face when we encounter imperfection due to sinful, self-protective choices. We can either throw others under the bus, throw “the standard” we are judged by under the bus, or finally throw ourselves under the bus – coming to recognize our need for One greater than ourselves who has already attained the standard we will never live up to.
Coming to this point is humiliating to our pride, but it is the place where true life can be received. As Paul says in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you a free from the law of sin and death.”
Before we meet Christ, we exhaust ourselves trying to find our own way out from under the shame of not measuring up to the standard written on our hearts or we give up in despair and bury the knowledge of our guilt deep below our conscious thought. We prefer the surface life of distraction, busyness, and entertainment than to dare the depths of acknowledging evidence that something is deeply wrong with our hearts. We don’t want to think about how ugly our hearts are and how we have contributed to the ugliness in the world. It is easier to hold ourselves aloof, numb to the roots of our emotions, than to be found in the wrong when we don’t know how to make things right.
But it is Christ who offers us a way out of our Catch 22. It is He who teaches us that to be made right, we must first be willing to be found in the wrong. In older terminology this humbling of pride and acknowledgment of need to be made right was called being “poor in spirit”. “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom on heaven.” This is not a one-time acknowledgment, but a daily one. As long as we live, we must continue to cry out in recognition of our need for Christ’s life in us and be willing to slay the sin-monster that crouches at our door in the name of Him who reigns victorious over sin and death. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The next time you are tempted to throw your brother or your sister under the bus, take a moment and consider whether or not it should not be your own pride that should go first.
Budziszewski, J. (1998). The Revenge of Conscience. First Things. https://www.firstthings.com/article/1998/06/the-revenge-of-conscience