By any account, media coverage this week has been saturated in violence. We have been inundated by graphic and raw descriptions of theÂ Boston bombings, a live-birth abortionist, and even the Senate’s rejection of expanded firearm background checking. These are public tragedies: public displays that evoke charged words like evil, hellish, terror,Â moral failure. They are also riveting, partly because their scale is rare, but also because they have taken such personal forms. Each of these were made more horrific because they involved the slaughter of children and innocents: an eight-year-old torn to pieces while waiting for his father, a baby crying before having its spinal cord snipped, a piece of legislation driven by an elementary school massacre.
The more personal such tragedies become, the more we struggle with the concept of evil. I live on a city block rife with violence. Last year, Parenting Magazine rated it as the Number 1 worst place to raise your children. At one point, I woke up to the sound of gunfire at least once a week. One shooting occurred at an interÂsecÂtion I had driÂven through moments earlier; I heard the gunÂshots while trying to park my car and, after seeÂing peoÂple runÂning away through the same lot, promptly ran from cover and into the house. It is a draÂmatic story and I tell it often, someÂtimes for sensationâ€™s sake but mainly because that was when â€œthe shizÂzle got realâ€ for me. At that moment, livÂing in the city lost an eleÂment of its romanÂtic ideÂalÂism and things became more polarized.
By polarÂized I mean sevÂeral things.Â For one, good and evil became more tanÂgiÂble and proÂfound.Â This is a necÂesÂsary thing for the chronic doubter, cynic, and modÂernist inside me, because I like to think of the world in shades of gray, to imagÂine that its moralÂity is comÂplex and malÂleable.Â I like to avoid an uncomÂfortÂable comÂmitÂment to absolutes, linÂgerÂing politely in the shadÂows of relÂaÂtivism where there is no need to talk about heaven or hell, conÂdemÂnaÂtion or salÂvaÂtion.Â I like to preÂtend there are no demons or angels, no slayÂers of men or savers of souls, that there are only broÂken instiÂtuÂtions and negÂaÂtive behavÂior patÂterns in need of rehaÂbilÂiÂtaÂtion and/or medication.
I think this is why I used to shy away from the Psalms and other porÂtions of the Old TesÂtaÂment that talk about the wicked and bloodÂthirsty and the evilÂdoÂers.Â I used to think it sounded archaic, unforÂgivÂing, and graceÂless.Â Can peoÂple be so malevÂoÂlent, feckÂless, and predaÂtory?Â Surely not, I thought; we are more modÂern now, more civÂiÂlized and more progressive.
I see how wrong I was every day, when I drive pastÂ peoÂple passÂing cash for unclear but highly suspicious reaÂsons. I have gotten used to that look I get fromÂ eyes that are, for lack of a betÂter descripÂtion, vacant and hunÂgry.Â It is a sideÂlong glance that lingers for a few secÂonds, waitÂing for a sigÂnal of my intent or a hint as to why a young asian male would be driÂving around this neighÂborÂhood.Â Am I there to buy?Â Am I there to spy The first day I moved in, while I was tryÂing toÂ change a tire, a young man came up to me and struck up a conÂverÂsaÂtion about my car.Â I thought he was just being friendly until I saw the wad of cash in his hand . . . and then I conÂtinÂued to emphaÂsize howÂ I had just moved in and was a neighÂbor now and that was all.Â He gave me his name, and then the seven year old kids runÂning around the lot laughed and said, â€œYou a liar!Â That ainâ€™t your name!â€ and began tatÂtling on a litany of crimes: that he was a rapist, a dealer, etc.Â He quiÂetly cursed them off and laughed.Â â€œKids, haha,â€ I laughed weakly.Â He smiled, he helped me a bit with the tire, and I never saw himÂ again.
My roomÂmate gets jumped walkÂing in the streets. A crack deal goes bad and someÂone is dead.Â A three-month old baby is chucked across the room by her father.Â A child starves to death because the mother is high all the time.Â I hear someÂthing clatÂter downÂstairs at night.Â Just like that, the shizÂzle gets real and evil is as archaic and abstract a conÂcept as my racÂing heartbeat.
Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourÂself in times of trouÂble?
In his arroÂgance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravÂings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosÂperÂous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his eneÂmies.
He says to himÂself, â€œNothÂing will ever shake me.â€
He swears, â€œNo one will ever do me harm.â€
His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouÂble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the vilÂlages;
from ambush he murÂders the innoÂcent.
His eyes watch in secret for his vicÂtims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpÂless;
he catches the helpÂless and drags them off in his net.
His vicÂtims are crushed, they colÂlapse;
they fall under his strength.
He says to himÂself, â€œGod will never notice;
he covÂers his face and never sees.â€ â€”Â Psalm 10
A drug seeker breaks into a doctorâ€™s office lookÂing for scripts, murÂders him, and leaves a wife and two young chilÂdren behind.Â I rememÂber this story clearly because we knew the famÂily.Â The docÂtor and my dad used to go fishÂing all the time, used to be best friends.Â Then one evening, the phone rang and my mother began shriekÂing in tears.Â My dad doesnâ€™t fish any more.Â He is glad of what I am doing, is extremely supÂportÂive and underÂstandÂing and prayerÂful, and visÂits often but he did ask me once, â€œAre you sure?Â Stay with the kids minÂistry; theyâ€™re still innoÂcent.Â Be careÂful.Â Be safe.Â Stay away from the adults.Â They already had a chance, right?â€
It sounded reaÂsonÂable, but it bothÂered me anyÂway.Â I couldnâ€™t verÂbalÂize why until reading the folÂlowÂing parable at church one day:
Two men went up to the temÂple to pray,Â one a PharÂisee and the other a tax collector.Â The PharÂisee stood by himÂselfÂ and prayed: â€˜God,Â I thank you that I am not like other peoÂpleâ€”robÂbers, evilÂdoÂers, adulterersâ€”or even like this tax collector.Â I fastÂ twice a week and give a tenthÂ of all IÂ get.â€™
But the tax colÂlecÂtor stood at a disÂtance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breastÂ and said, â€˜God, have mercy on me, a sinner.â€™
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home jusÂtiÂfied before God. For all those who exalt themÂselves will be humÂbled, and those who humÂble themÂselves will be exalted. â€”Â Jesus
Here is the secÂond point of clarÂity, of polarÂizaÂtion: there is good and evil, but I am not good.Â There are good peoÂple and bad peoÂple, and I belong with the bad peoÂple.Â Itâ€™s chillÂing and appalling to think so, and there are many reflexes in my soul that revolt vioÂlently at the thought of being clasÂsiÂfied like that, but it must be true, I know it to be true.Â Because if it is not true, and we are merely the prodÂuct of our cirÂcumÂstances or upbringÂing or othÂerÂwise pseudoÂranÂdom allotÂments of ethÂiÂcal conÂscience within our aniÂmalÂisÂtic brains, there is no great reaÂson to be here except paterÂnalÂism and a great amount of panÂderÂing to self-esteem.
And so livÂing in the inner city, reading and engaging and praying about the many tragedies that ought to remain in our public conscience helps to restore my soul.Â It reminds me that we are truly,Â trulyÂ all in the same boat.Â So I learn from men likeÂ my roomÂmate and KÂ and my other neighÂbors what it means to be transÂformed by the livÂing God, to be thankÂful that I am the other perÂson, and that He loves and forÂgives me anyway.
You see, at just the right time,Â when we were still powerless,Â Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyÂone die for a rightÂeous perÂson, though for a good perÂson someÂone might posÂsiÂbly dare to die.Â But God demonÂstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinÂners, Christ died for us.Â Since we have now been jusÂtiÂfiedÂ by his blood,Â how much more shall we be saved from Godâ€™s wrathÂ through him!Â For if, while we were Godâ€™s enemies,Â we were recÂonÂciledÂ to him through the death of his Son, how much more, havÂing been recÂonÂciled, shall we be saved through his life!Â Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received recÂonÂcilÂiÂaÂtion. â€”Â Romans 5
About the author:
David graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and received his medical degree from Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School with a Masters in Public Health concentrated in health systems and policy. He completed a dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. He continues to work in Delaware as a dual Med-Peds hospitalist. Faith-wise, he is decidÂedly Christian, and regarding everything else he will gladly talk your ear off about health policy, the inner city, gadgets, and why Disneyâ€™s Frozen is actually a terrible movie.