Let’s call him Ben. Ben was small, frail, about 4 years old. He had tousled blonde hair and pale blue eyes and translucent skin with dark blue veins visible just under the surface. In the brief time I took care of Ben, he never said a word. He never uttered a sound. I was a junior medical student charged with caring for Ben on the pediatric wards. His parents were stiff and silent on what had happened to Ben. They just found him in his bed still, quiet, and motionless save for the occasional blinking of his eyes and the rise and fall of his chest.
It was the late 1970’s and a new machine called a CAT scan was available at another hospital in our city. I traveled with Ben in the ambulance to a huge, brightly lit room. Against the far wall was a monstrosity of a machine with U shaped arms that spun and slid like some 1930’s science fiction machination. Ben was so tiny in the center of this huge machine. It would take 30 minutes to image his brain but there would be no problem with Ben holding still. Ben did not move. Today, that same scan would take 2 seconds.
As I watched the images slowly appear on a monitor, the radiologist sat beside me and sighed. He pointed to the white rim of Ben’s skull. He touched the dusty screen over a white blob in the center of Ben’s brain. Blood. Fractures. I was sick to my stomach.
Later after bringing in the police, the parents admitted to placing Ben’s head in the window sill and repeatedly closing the window on his head to get him to stop crying. Ben died in my arms, unloved, rejected, but not alone.
I have looked evil in the face. Evil is real. It is not a quirk of the synapses. It is not a chemical imbalance. It is not an environmentally produced “disorder”. It is an entity. I saw it lurking behind the feigned tears of Ben’s parents. I saw it in the manic face of a young girl I am convinced was possessed by that evil. I saw it in the relentless stare of a patient who vowed to kill me and eat my liver. I felt its caress on a lonely night in a bed and breakfast in Austin, Texas when I was trying to finish my book about the influence of these evil forces on our world.
I saw it last week. I saw it many times this past year. Last night, my best friend Mark Riser gave me a book for Christmas on theology. I randomly opened it and read a paragraph. It was not a random sampling it turns out. Basically the section was on evil and there was a thought placed there for me to ponder. Maybe our culture is more fascinated with evil than ever in order to pull our attention to the big acts of evil so we do not notice the insidious, quiet, tiny touches of evil as it infiltrates our lives.
The big evil last week was the killing of over two dozen innocent people including children. But that “big evil” came at the expense of dozens of tiny caresses of evil. “He was a quiet, thoughtful person.” “He was so nice.” “I can’t imagine why he did this.” You hear these kind of statements all the time when such a tragedy occurs.
Jay Strack, a motivational speaker back in the mid 1990’s once said when he went scuba diving, it wasn’t the sharks he feared. Rather, it was the multitude of minnows that can nibble you to death. We focus on the “big evil” and miss the accumulating influence of a thousand tiny evils that poke and prod and erode and puncture so much so that one day we find ourselves being bled to death; our resolve, our compassion, our mercy gone and we snap. The big evil takes us and we smash a tiny boy’s head in the window sill or rip a sink out of the wall or take up a gun and kill.
Don’t miss this. Each of us is totally and completely capable of carrying out the kind of “mindless, senseless” violence we saw last week. Don’t think for a moment that you or I are above it. We aren’t. We are imperfect, broken souls on a journey toward forgiveness; love; completion; release. Why are we such broken creatures? Why can we not pull ourselves up out of the muck; above these base emotions and actions?
Jesus of Nazareth had many things to say about evil and here are just three:
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
Jesus seems to be saying that evil originates in our hearts and minds. WE are the source of evil! How is this possible? If evil is real then how can it also be in us and yet not come from us? Ah, this is the mystery of all time. Our scientific culture wants to assert that we are but highly evolved animals; that we have no true spiritual side; that we do not have a thing called the soul. Such talk is of the supernatural and the supernatural does not exist. It is but a figment of our imagination.
But, Jesus seems to be saying that there is something within us that quickens at the sight of art and beauty; that resonates to the sound of music; that seeks and connects with that most abstract of things, love. And, because we are broken; ruined by this disconnect with the divine; we allow evil to take the place of good; to let darkness rule instead of light. There are only two choices — dark or light — good or evil. One will prevail in our hearts and mind and will rule the day. It is simple, Jesus taught. How then do we push the evil into the dark, powerless corners of our live so that good prevails? One more word from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth:
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.”
Ah, we can fight the urges; suppress the evil impulses; push the destructive thoughts away but if we DO NOT have something positive to fill the void, then the evil will return more powerful and more controlling than ever. Look at history. Those who started down the path of evil; those who allowed the minnows to nibble away at their conscience; slowly, inexorably drowned in the sea of evil and became hardened; solidified by evil. For them, there is little hope of return to good; to return to sanity; to return to a world filled with light. Think of the Nazi holocaust, how insidiously a nation desiring to merely rebuild from the ashes of World War I became an engine of worldwide destruction and the killing machine of the Holocaust. Think of Stalin, ruler of Russia desiring to rebuild his country after the devastation of World War II deciding to quietly eliminate a few political enemies for the good of the state. Estimates are that he probably had between 50 and 100 million of his own people executed! There are dozens of such stories just from the twentieth century alone. And, no sane person would ever disagree that Adolph Hitler was evil.
I have no answer for why the events of last week took place. But, our actions should be to reach out in love, compassion, mercy and prayer to the families of the victims and the perpetrator. And, in our response we have once again turned to God. Where was God in the midst of this tragedy? Right where we left Him, out in the darkness; away in the shadows; escorted out of the picture by our culture for we do not need Him in our world of materialism, naturalism, and the promise of answers to all our quandaries from science.
What we cannot solve with our equations and our theories is the mystery of the human heart and the human soul. Jesus solved that problem. He taught that the heart must change and can only change through a realization that He is the Light. This season whether you believe in God or not; whether you worship the baby born in a manager or believe it is all a myth; seek to fill your heart with the Light of the Love that Jesus showed to us. And, when you do, you will find peace and goodwill toward all men.
As humorous and hilarious as the chapters were in “Night of the Living Dead Christian” the Interludes were powerful and moving. It is in the Interludes that Matt Mikalatos brings home the goods. Here is an excerpt from one of the first interludes with the “werewolf” Luther Martin about his father, a pastor.
“My father’s inflexibility, his unpleasable nature, and the paucity of sincere affection all haunted my youth. But as Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “A man knows when he is growing old because he beings to look like his father.” I can look back now, and insights about my father’s nature and intention become clear to me. He did not intend to teach me theology at the expense of a relationship with himself, or for that matter, with God, though that is what he did. He did not meant to drive my brother out of the house or out of the church, but that is what he did. He did not mean to take his anger and grief about my brother’s prodigal lifestyle and use them to turn the screws on my own theological education, but that is what he did.”
Further on Luther says, “My entire life reflected on him, it seemed, and when I first learned the story of my poor brother, Marty, standing up in the middle of a service and declaring himself an atheist before walking out the door, never to return, I immediately envied him, understood him, and pitied him for his flamboyant dramatic streak.”
Matt goes on to uncover one of the most powerful truths about those who have chosen to be atheists in this revelation from Luther:
“You ask me why I hate my father. I can only say that hate, loathing, disgust, all these words would be too strong to explain my feelings for my father. I have felt these things and moved beyond them to a sincere and placid lack of thought about him.”
Recently I had the opportunity to hear Frank Turek speak on his apologetic ministry. I was stunned when he said that when a person rejects God so many times and crosses that threshold into an area where God removes His forgiveness, then to that person God no longer exists. It’s not like God is still there hovering hoping for the person to change their mind. No, God removes His presence. God leaves the person alone which is exactly what that person wants! The person truly becomes an atheist because for him, God no longer exists!
I never thought of it that way but this idea comports itself with Romans 1. And, here, in this ditzy, crazy, monster filled book, Matt Mikalatos nails it! Dinesh D’Souza in his latest book, “Godforsaken”, says that atheists are really “wounded theists” hurt by someone, most likely their father. They look at God through the lens of the pain that was dealt to them in the name of God by their fathers.
Some readers may find the humor and rapid fire story of “Night of the Living Dead Christian” too much. But, it is worth the roller coaster ride just to pause and soak up the Interludes. Here, Matt reveals a powerful truth by “showing” not “telling”. The truth that we are often hurt by those who love us the most and in that hurt, we look at a loving God through fractured, splintered lenses. We see God as we see our flawed fathers and mothers and brothers and pastors and friends and sisters. We see God as someone we would just as soon have a “sincere and placid lack of thought about him.” Read those quotes again and then read the book.
Do you know someone who has walked out the door and away from God? If so, why not extend to them a loving hand; a helpful heart; an understanding that Matt extends to a lonely, hurt werewolf whose idea of God is that of a hateful, disgusting father. Sometimes when these questions arise, it’s not answers they seek. It’s understanding and connection and empathy. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the ending of this book, not in detail to spoil it, but in substance to understand the most powerful Interlude.