When I rummage around in the cobwebbed attic of childhood memories, he’s there. Birthday parties. Rodeos. Fishing trips. I see him, always lurking in the background. Don’t ask me why this surprises me, for we did grow up together. But it still shocks and angers me to this day, how he would never give me a moment’s peace. At first, I barely knew who he was. But little by little, year after year, we got into each other’s heads, and beneath each other’s skin. Until, finally, I knew him as a brother knows a brother, and a man his mortal enemy. Even when I was a child, and he one, too—for we’re about the same age—he always seemed evil beyond his years. A precocious rebel against the mythical innocence of youth. If only the good die young, he could look forward to a life fat with years. I recall one day in elementary school. There was a boy on the playground who was handicapped. This kid—I think his name was Tom—walked funny and couldn’t talk right. While the teachers’ backs were turned, he and a gang of boys pinned Tom down behind an old tinhorn and, while the kid cried and screamed, they poured handfuls of little rocks down Tom’s pants, inside his underwear, giggling the whole while, as if this was the best sport imaginable. That kind of raw cruelty was his bread and butter. Nothing like another’s tears to make him laugh. I think that was the day I began to hate him.
As we got older, he either grew worse, or just found more creative and expansive opportunities to act out his identity. He stole things he didn’t even want, certainly didn’t need, for the sheer thrill of breaking the law and getting away with it. There were tests in school for which he was adequately prepared, but he cheated anyway, just because he could. He indulged in acts of violence that, even when the best construction is put on them, remain selfish acts of volition for which no excuse is admissible. If I had hated him even while a child, in his late teens I grew to loathe him as the very antithesis of the man I wanted to be.
Knowing this brief sketch of his early biography, you can imagine what he was like when he reached adulthood, when his was a life free from the conservative confines of family. There was the rich variety of dishes of debauchery in the sexual cafeteria. So he heaped his plate to gorge the insatiable libido. There were backs to stab, masks to wear, lies to promulgate. There were the weak to bully, the powerful to glad-hand, the hypocrites to emulate, the fallen to trample, the lucky to curse, the simple to mock. He made it his business to transmogrify every virtue into vice, and to gild every vice with virtue, so that men might praise him aloud while the devils clapped silent hands.
I’ve spent the greater part of my life trying to kill this man. But every morning when I get up and look in the mirror, there he is, alive and well.
Who am I? I am two men who hate each other, who spend every day at war. I am the man described above, and I am the man whom God calls his son. Peace between these two is impossible; if a mock peace is declared, that only means evil has won the day. The son of God has only one choice: to execute the other man. It is justifiable homicide, indeed, death mandated by heaven. What the man of evil hates most, what he fears most, is exposure. The truth is anathema to him, for his survival depends on stealth. To reveal him, in all his self-serving, death-loving, vice-venerating ways, is to deal a fatal blow. At heart he is a liar, and liars are killed by truth, as darkness is slain by light.
For what the truth, and what the light, reveal is that the son of God always wins. I win for God wins. I have seen, repeatedly, God do a most violent thing. I have seen God take him, that vile man, by the back of the neck, and shove his head beneath the waters in which I was once baptized, and hold him there while he kicks and writhes, until bubbles of oxygen surface, the body grows limp, and waters flood those rank lungs. And I have seen, repeatedly, God do a most loving thing. I have seen him take me in his arms, kiss me, forgive me, tell he that I am more dear to him than life.
I have spent the greater part of my life wondering how it is that God can love like that.
If you enjoy my writings, please consider purchasing my newly published book, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. This poetry gives voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Whether you weep, rejoice, struggle, or hope, through these hymns and poems you can speak to God with honesty and fidelity. By buying a copy, you will also aid mission work, for 25% of the proceeds from book sales go to benefit Lutherans in Africa. Click here to purchase your copy. Thanks!