Yesterday afternoon, the first reports of a terrorist attack in Nice, France, started coming in. The driver of a truck decimated scores of innocent people in the street. Eighty four people are dead, including several children, and many more are wounded. Like everyone else, I was shocked, sickened, and angered by this horrific slaughter. I also felt something else, something I can’t find a single word to express.
You see, I drive a truck for a living. A big truck. I feel its power every time I step on the accelerator. You might think with a tractor-trailer that’s about 63 feet long, which weighs tens of thousands of pounds, I wouldn’t feel it hit small things. But I do. I can tell when I run over a water bottle. I can feel a small branch slap against the top of the trailer. With my body on the seat and my hands on the steering wheel, it’s like the truck and my body are one. The tractor-trailer becomes an extension of me.
That truck yesterday was an extension of the driver. He was the bumper, the wheels, the engine, the transmission, the fuel. It was all him. We cannot, even in the slightest, depersonalize this act of evil. It was not a truck that killed those 84 people; it was a man.
Evil must never be depersonalized. Yet we do it, almost reflexively, it seems. We speak of the weaponry used to kill people, whether it’s bombs, guns, airplanes, or trucks. We talk about the motivations for an attack, whether it’s racism, political ideology, class warfare, or religious extremism. We are trying, I think, to dig deep enough into the problem to come up with a viable solution. If we can only pinpoint the real essence of the evil, then maybe we can eradicate it.
But we can’t. As many have said before me, @@the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.@@ Evil is always personal because it’s always a person who is evil. Not a truck, not a plane, not a gun, not a bomb. A person. All these other externals are the means used by evil people to perpetrate evil deeds. Just like all the motivations for attack, whether they be racial or religious or political, are internals that co-opt the congenital evil of the human heart to further their cause.
This is why, when it comes to addressing evil, the political and military machinery of the world can only do so much. I’ve seen calls on social media to bomb the hell out of ISIS. We debate how open our national borders should be, how much we should control guns, how we might ease racial tensions, etc. All this discussion and debate is well and good. We should have it. I’m not discouraging public discourse.
I’m simply telling you this: it won’t accomplish much at all. Blow ISIS to smithereens and another group will crawl out of the ashes. Ban all guns and someone will create a new weapon. This is reality: you cannot legislate evil out of the heart of man. Evil must never be depersonalized. People are the problem. We always have been.
That is also why, when it comes to addressing evil, the church has a message that must continue to resound. We must call a thing what it is, not what we want it to be. Dear church, do not get sidetracked. This is about far more than terrorism, racism, gun ownership, and the like. This is about the evil of the human heart. Stick to the core issue when addressing evil in this world. Keep pointing to the root problem.
And keep pointing to the root solution. If people are the problem, then a person is the solution as well.
When our God saw how bad the world had become, just how far we had wandered from the way he created us to be, he didn’t send a servant or angel down to take care of the problem. He packed his bags and made the journey himself.
Because we are the problem, God became one of us. Born into a world which, like ours, was drunk on blood. Born into a world already rampant with terror, hatred, racism, slavery, rape, murder, and every other imaginable evil. God was born into a world no different than our 2016 world. In many ways, it was worse.
Jesus is the only true and lasting solution to evil in this world. Everything else, no matter how much temporary relief it might provide, is ultimately a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. The reason is simple. Only Jesus does to us evil people what needs to be done: he bids us die with him and rise with him to newness of life.
Jesus created a new humanity, one in which there is neither black or white, male or female, Jew or Gentile, American or French or Pakistani. All are one in him. But the only way you get into this new humanity is by death. We die with Jesus on the cross of our own baptism. I don’t mean a figurative death, a symbolic slaying. We who are evil truly die with him in those waters. And we rise with Jesus as new people, members of his body, filled with his Spirit, ambassadors in a world that desperately needs the followers of Christ.
The message the church has for the world is always the same: All you who are weary and heavy laden, who are burdened by your own sins and the sins of others, who are frightened of death and attacks and bloodshed, who are divided racially and ethnically and politically—all of you, come to Jesus, the love of God incarnate. Enter into his death and emerge into his life. Know in him a peace that passes understanding. Receive in him a new heart and a new life.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. She is part of a new humanity. We are part of the body of Jesus, the church, which prays for a world gone mad, which invites all to come to the mercy of God, which holds forth a cross of love to a world of hate.
**Here is a short YouTube video in which I talk about death, so-called "natural death," and the life we have in the resurrection of Jesus.