A while back I was talking over coffee with a young man who had spent several months studying primate social behaviour in Africa. I asked him what, if anything, had surprised him about how chimpanzees behaved toward one another. “Yeah,” he said. “Sometimes they can be pretty awful toward each other! Almost as bad as humans.”
As we have been reminded often over the past few weeks and months, with the brutal and deliberately public murders perpetrated by ISIS, or the shocking events in Paris, and Yemen, and Iraq, and Somalia, and _____, human beings are utterly unique in their capacity for ideologically fuelled violence, hatred, and murderous rage. Chimps can be selfish and cunning and brutal, yes. But it takes a human being to be evil.
I have little penetrating insight to offer on the way of the world these days, no defiant fist in the air, no doomsday prediction, no howl of lament. Nothing but a heavy heart and a weary mind. Who can make sense of these things? Who can truly understand why we kill and hate and burn and destroy? Who can understand why words and images and differences of belief are somehow seen to be reason enough to stamp out the life of another?
One often hears talk of “world peace” and “setting aside differences” and “coming together” around “shared values” of all humanity. This sounds pretty good. But not terribly likely, given the news of the day. Given the news of any day. Sometimes I wonder if we would be better off forgetting about lofty ideas and ideals, and just acting like the chimps, selfishly scrambling after food and sex. The world wouldn’t be perfect, certainly. There would still be plenty of struggle and mayhem. But I wonder if it might not be a bit better place than it is with the horrors unleashed by all these overdeveloped frontal lobes running around with their big ideas and their slavish hunger for rightness.
Often, after hearing the news of the day—particularly when the news is as shocking as it has so often been lately—I instinctively murmur under my breath, Christ have mercy. But what business have I introducing Christ into this tangled and toxic mess? Is it not in Christ’s name that evil has also been done throughout history and even in the present? Are not the claims of Christ—or at least of his followers—just as divisive as other exclusive faiths in a world destroying itself over difference? Would not Christ be better off left out of things altogether?
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to these sentiments. But, at the end of it all, I cannot leave Christ out of the news of the day or my reaction to it. He is a part of me and I of him. I cannot but look at all things through the lens of this man and his way. And while I have my questions and my uncertainties and maddening frustrations about even Christ, about what it means to claim him alone in a world of difference, there are some things that attain shattering clarity when looked at through the lens of this man and his way.
Chief among them would be how this man deals with difference. He does not seek to conquer or compel, does not threaten or storm the gates, armed to the teeth. He does not take life. Not even from his enemies, from those who wish him great harm, from those who persistently and willfully misunderstand and slander him. Rather, he invites. He loves. He touches, embraces, forgives. He astonishes with grace.
And, of course, he lays down his life for his friends and his enemies. He does not lower himself to our death-dealing, fearful ways. Actually, come to think of it, he does lower himself. All the way to the bottom, precisely to show us the price of our desperation to be on top.
And he commands his followers to embrace and adopt this way.
It is only because of this man and his way that I can whisper, in the face of the brutal and blood-soaked news of the day, Christ have mercy. And give us some of it for each other, too, if you don’t mind.