Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Crouching at the Door

Genesis 6:5 (King James Version)

“5And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Matthew 15:19 (King James Version)

“19For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies”

Dennis Rader, the man arrested and charged with the infamous BTK murders, has captured the attention of the national press. In a piece titled “Banality of Evil,” Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald peered into the darkness, asking the questions and making the points that the vast majority of us want to avoid:

“When we look into Dennis Rader’s eyes for murder, then, I think what we’re really looking for is reassurance, something that says he is different from us somehow, fundamentally foreign in some way to our ordinary lives. The alternative is unsettling, suggesting as it does that humanity is a skin we slip out of all too easily and civilization a conceit in which one would be wise not to repose too much faith.”

“That alternative requires you to wonder what is the difference between him and us, where is the turning point, the dividing line, the border a human being must cross in order to become a monster. You look for answers in Dennis Rader’s eyes and all you see is Joe Blow staring back at you.”

I don’t think that Mr. Pitts is singularly guilty of looking in the wrong place to understand the evil Dennis Rader committed. We’re almost all guilty of reading the human tea leaves in error, assuming that since the face is the mirror of the soul we’re discerning enough to pick up the cues etched there. Then, when the evil is inflicted, we are at a loss to make any sense of how it all happened. We are repulsed by it, but we find it almost impossible to explain.

Author Lance Morrow vividly described the oft misguided attempts we make to read the human face to determine whether or not evil is resident within. The scene was a round-table discussion he once had with a Nobel Prize winning physicist, a group of scholars, a theologian, and a classicist from Oxford. They, like us, were attempting to understand the inner workings of evil, hoping that in doing so they could prevent it from happening at all. Morrow noted that it was:

“The classicist, whose own face was a perfect smiling mask of a certain Oxford type, argued that a person’s character is manifest in his face. He said that, for example, “Ariel Sharon has a horrible, a monstrous face.” He made a joke to the effect that Yassir Arafat “is not as bad as he looks.”

“The classicist thought that Harry Truman was a terrible judge of character, since at Potsdam he had missed the most important thing – the truth about Stalin.”

“We rambled on. I said that I think one sees what one is looking to see. I thought of Abraham Lincoln’s singular face, in which history has learned to see a long-suffering, brooding nobility. At the time he was elected president in 1860, much of America – including gatherings very much like the one that rainy November morning in the university in Boston – beheld Lincoln and saw a coarse, ugly, ungainly backwoods buffoon, a
knuckle dragging ape in the cartoonist’s version.”

I believe Morrow’s right. Evil is more than skin deep; it is a matter that spring from the depths of the heart.

Our miscalculations are understandable. The human countenance is very expressive indeed. The face of Cain, mankind’s first murderer, reflected an anger that his Maker clearly saw:

Genesis 4:5-6 (New International Version)

“5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?”

Seeing the potential for evil, God looked beyond Cain’s downcast face and probed the depths of his heart:

Genesis 4:7 (New International Version)

“7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

Cain’s anger went far deeper than his face or eyes. He had been told, in a sense, that the anger mirrored there was only a symptom of sin “crouching at the door” of his heart. If the rage was to be mastered it was going to have to be controlled from within the heart. Yet, even knowing that, being pre-warned, he failed to master the evil that was lurking at his door.

The other day I posted a piece about the similarities between Dennis Rader, Steve Fossett, and me. I’m still struck by how alike at first glance we seem to be. Three men, about sixty years old, receding hairlines, a bit overweight, faces that seem so nondescript that none of us would stand out in a crowd. And even more frighteningly, the same human bent to sin has been crouching at the doors of our hearts in the same way it crouches at the hearts of all men.

Dennis Rader professed the same faith I profess. How could this be? Was he nothing more than an imposter, a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Was there, or is there now, even a spark of redemption in his soul?

It all began for him, as it did with the first murderer, with the intersection of sin, temptation, and evil. The collision was violent; the output of the cruel encounter was evil unleashed. An “ordinary” man did something almost unspeakably evil.

In the end I believe there is a lesson to be learned. Leonard Pitts dug dip; he just didn’t dig deep enough. It’s not the eye of man, nor is it the countenance. They only give us a small glimpse of what is stirring within the heart. It is the heart that is the wellspring of good and it is the heart that tragically can also be the seat of evil

I know, even in the midst of confusion, in trying to understand how and why such evil can overtake any of us, that there is a clear message for me. There is nothing in my genes that makes me better than Dennis Rader. The same propensity that caused his heart to wander from the good and embrace the evil, passed down through the ages, resides in me. My only escape lies not in guarding my eye, but in guarding my heart, trusting the age old message of God’s grace demonstrated by Jesus. When temptation, sin, and evil crouch at my door I must not harden my heart and give in to the impulse of evil. I must cling to Him who saved, and will by His grace, continue to save me.

1 comment:

Aaroncoal said...

Great blog! Inspiring and well organized.

I'm from Wichita so I can relate to a lot of your info.