Having just come off a bevy of year end retrospectives, and faced with the horrible news from France, Nigeria, and half a dozen other places, I keep wondering what we will be saying about this year in late December. If you happen to catch The Today Show or some such show in the beginning of January, they often try to encapsulate the depressing news by telling us this was a “tough year” as they show footage of natural disasters and acts of terrorism. Sometimes I wish they’d say, “Just like every other year humans have been running the show, 2014 has been filled with violence and depravity.”

16204049066_531bbee27c_z-1Of course, news outlets cannot dish out an honest take on our sinful nature. First of all, it would be terrible for ratings. But also, we would lose the vain promise that somehow next year will be different, that we will be different. They allow us to believe that whatever previous year we went through was the worst yet (politically, socially, or economically) and that the future looks shiny and new. Not to be a Sad Sally, but from my vantage point, January has already taught us that 2015 will be just as bloody as the year before.

I suppose I’m tired of pretending that sin will not always be with us and that somehow each year we will get better as a species. I call bullhockey. Was anything worse than the Holocaust? Or the murder of 2 little girls at an Alabama church bombing in 1963? Dare we compare 2014 to 2001? With the 24 hour news cycle “informing” us of what’s happening all over the world, we are given the opportunity to be forever alarmed at our present state.

Listen, I’m the last person that wants to live with my head in the sand, but living in a constant state of outrage does us no good. Collectively, we seem to be a people consistently mystified by our sin. And that makes me weary. Christian or not, people do horrifying things to one another on a regular basis. I wish we would stop wasting time being astonished by that reality. (As always, The Onion said it best). All of this makes me think of the fantastic talk Aaron Zimmerman gave at the 2012 Mockingbird Conference in NYC, “The Zoolander Antitdote: Telling the Truth (About Ourselves).” His three points have stayed burned in my brain:

  1. People are bad.*
  2. Christians are people.
  3. Christians are bad.

*You’ll have to listen to the talk itself to hear how expertly and compassionately he qualifies/defines that word: 

Lord knows the apostle Paul would have taken us to the theological cleaners for our ongoing perplexeded-ness at human depravity. He knew that sinfulness was inevitable, as he wrote in Romans 7:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Charlie+Brown+2Paul would have looked at our current state of affairs and asked us some hard questions. Do we balk and yell at the egregious sins of others because we want to distance ourselves from the reality that it could as well have been us out there, being terrible? And that on so many days, in our own ways, it is?

I realize that accepting this low anthropology about ourselves can feel like we’re embracing cynicism, or like we’re not “doing anything”. But the two are not connected. At least not in my playbook. And not according to the late Robert Farrar Capon:

“…there is therefore now no condemnation for two reasons: you are dead now; and God, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has been dead all along. The blame game was over before it started. It really was. All Jesus did was announce that truth and tell you it would make you free. It was admittedly a dangerous thing to do. You are a menace. Be he did it; and therefore, menace or not, here you stand: uncondemned, forever, now. What are you going to do with your freedom?” ― Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace

In other words, what sounds dour and defeatist at first is actually anything but. To accept that human beings are a violent, bumbling, sinful lot–ourselves included–means that when these horrifying things happen, less energy is spent being surprised and indignant, and more time can be spent at the foot of the cross asking: How would you have me respond, Lord?