Monday, October 11, 2010

Bad Dreams and the Good Fight

I sometimes feel like I am waking up from a bad dream. 

The sensation is like this... I see things, shocking things, before my eyes. 

"It can't be this bad," I mumble, in sleepy daze.

I rub my eyes, and listen for a moment. I'm aware that I am half asleep, half awake. As I'm waking, I look at the world around me with puzzlement. I see figures like ghosts. I see the lips of the ghosts moving, and I hear distant voices. They are muttering indistinct words about wealth, happiness, and personal peace. The ghosts are moving quickly, and stumbling recklessly. They are bent on cruelty. The cruelty is outlandish, almost too cruel to be real.

Faced with such cruelty, I comfort myself, "Thankfully, I dreamed this. I must have dreamed this. It can't be this bad."

Then, I realize -- I have been awake the whole time. It was worse than a bad dream. It was a bad reality. I only thought I was dreaming so I might, for a moment, escape from the stern world of reality.

I get this sensation every so often when someone does something truly cruel. I got this sensation almost daily when my mom was in ICU. I could hardly believe the way medical professionals treated my mother. Can people be this uncaring, this careless, this unprofessional? Again and again, I would rub my eyes, and hope it was a bad dream. It wasn't. That uncaring, that careless, that unprofessional? Yes, they can. Jesus wasn't kidding when he said beware of men.

Looking bad, this bad dream sensation is a recurring nightmare. Over the years, fairly frequently, I meet someone, and I walk away thinking, "Really? Could a person have that little love? That little sense of common humanity? Could a person be that blind?"

I rub my eyes, and try to focus. Perhaps my vision is skewed. People aren't capable of that kind of cruelty, really. I must be having a bad dream. Then, upon refocus, I get the picture perfectly clear. I see the facts. It wasn't a dream. It was reality. Yes, people can be that cruel. Paul wasn't kidding when he quoted David, who also wasn't kidding, 

"Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.There is no fear of God before their eyes."

For me, this kind of 'reality' is hard to take in. Maybe that is why I try and refocus. Maybe that is why I hope, for a moment, that it really is just a bad dream. Or perhaps -- I have wondered this of late -- I don't take seriously the doctrine of total depravity. 

You and I can day-dream about all the 'good' people. We can shrink back when the Bible says, "the heart is desperately wicked." But, facts are facts. The fact is, the sons of Adam are capable of astounding cruelty. The fact is, as Charles Spurgeon put it, you can't slander humanity. 

So, the sons of Adam are morally broken, and terribly twisted. This is reality. This is bad news, but news we must honestly face. You may, however, be surprised at what this news does to us. It makes us soldiers.

One consequence of really facing evil is -- one which may not be immediately clear -- is that when we see evil, we become ready to fight it. If we honestly face evil, then we stop making silly excuses like, 'people are really good... they have good motives... they really mean the best.' 

I'm convinced that a basic understanding of total depravity is the foundation for 'fighting the good fight.' Real evil calls us forth to battle. If, however, evil is only a 'bad dream,' we too easily excuse ourselves for going back to sleep.

My favorite example of a man who chose to fight evil is Al Pacino as the mayor in City Hall. I would encourage you to check out the whole speech here, but this is my favorite excerpt.

There was a palace that was a city. It was a palace! It was a palace and it can be a palace again! A palace in which there is no king or queen or dukes or earls or princes, but subjects all -- subjects beholden to each other, to make a better place to live. Is that too much to ask? Are we asking too much for this? Is it beyond our reach?! Because if it is, then we are nothing but sheep being herded to the final slaughterhouse! I will not go down that way! I choose to fight back! I choose to rise, not fall! I choose to live, not die!!

Now, if you know the movie City Hall, then you know that Pacino has to eventually face the corruption in his own heart. I won't ruin the ending for you, but I will say that he -- and the city he served -- would have been better off had he started the fight against evil in his own heart. So, I'm reminded that the fight against evil begins with myself. It begins, not by waging war 'out there,' but by waging 'the war within.'

The battle begins by knowing that we ourselves are capable of astounding cruelty. Facts are facts. There are many things in our hearts that belong on hell's bookshelf. We know this, we face it, and we confess that it is not a bad dream. It's the reality of a bad heart. When we face evil in our hearts with realism, it is at that moment that we are able to call it what it is, and start fighting. We face evil. We rub our eyes. We see it really is that bad. Then, we fight. Before, when we didn't think we were that bad, when we thought we were only dreaming -- we could have been excused for simply going back to sleep. Now, having seen the enemy within to be a real bad bad guy -- now, we fight. 

Men fall asleep easily enough when they don't sense the presence of a real enemy. Men, however, who know for a fact that evil is near -- these men stay awake. They arm themselves, and "watch, and pray." And, when they see the enemy coming, they say,
"I will not go down that way! I choose to fight back!"

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