Orcs, Gunmen, and Bad Guys Like Me

While watching a Lord of The Rings Scene my four-year old son, Josiah, caught a glimpse of an Orc, a miserable snarling subhuman warrior for the “Army of Shadows.”

As his inquiring mind processed the battle scene before him, Josiah asked,

“Why is that guy mean?”

Before I could respond he answered his own question:

“Because he’s bad?”

Sounded like a sufficient reason to me:

“Yes, baby, he’s a bad guy.”

Such a description easily rolls off the tongue when encountering hypothetical terrorists on a movie screen. But when the perpetrators become human and the victims flesh and blood it seems our ability for succinct language becomes squishy and vague.

Whether it is the recent murder-suicide by NFL player Jevon Belcher.

Or the more recent Portland mall killings by a crazed gunman.

The response of many public network pundits has been the same the past few years:

Legal experts and resident psychologists will try to psychoanalyze the mind of the killers: social constraints, political persuasions, chemical reactions, or stunted emotional growth are all posited as the source of the madness. The whole world goes straight Dr. Phil in its obsession with the dark mind(lessness) of these murderers.

I don’t want to neglect the socio-economic, genetic, psychological, etc, factors that make up a person’s character. I don’t have anything meaningful to add to the timeless nature vs. nurture debate. But I believe something unfortunate is lost in our culture when we try to process man-made tragedies while altogether omitting words like “evil”, “bad”, or even “depraved” from our vocabulary.

Some times the “bad guys” aren’t just in a movie script.

Whether the heartless violence happens in Arizona, Norway, Columbine, or a mall, the social commentary in the aftermath shouldn’t always swirl around periphery issues like gun control, childhood upbringing, bullying, and poverty. Not that any of these don’t matter. Just that most of this chatter is to the neglect of personal responsibility for the evil actions of an evil man.

I know the world bristles at any value judgment that has moral overtones but that shouldn’t matter.

I want my son to keep this “bad guy” moniker in his vocabulary.

Not because he is “better” than anyone else, but because he could be much worse than anyone else. I want him to see that apart from the grace of God the natural bad guy that lives within his own nature can also manifest itself in horrifying ways.

I want him to see his daddy as one of the “good guys” not because I have anything inherently noble about me, but because I don’t. What separates any good man from the bad man is nothing but undeserved grace through the God Man.

Sometimes my mind goes places I don’t even begin (or want) to understand. I imagine if our thoughts could be projected for all to see we would be horrified, embarrassed, and left utterly friendless in less than a few hours. If we don’t believe in words like “evil” it may be because we haven’t lifted up the floorboards of our own nature and peered in to see what really lies beneath our daily facades.

There is real evil.

There is real invincible grace that trumps real evil too.

That’s the story we should tell. But if we keep denying with our words the natural-born bent toward wickedness in us all, then we’ve denied the need for the overpowering righteous given at the cross (2 Cor 5:21).

And for bad guys like me, there is no other hope in the world but the gospel of Jesus that saves sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)

Bryan Daniels

The Arizona Murders: Pure Evil or Pop Psychology?

On January 8th, a nihilistic, atheistic, conspiracy theorist named Jared Loughner murdered six people and injured 18 more including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The disturbing act propelled a massive hailstorm of media speculation concerning the young man’s psychological background and mental state.

I am not an expert of psychology by any stretch of the imagination. My only introduction to any formal psychological training came when I briefly thought about minoring in it during college. After just one class, I was turned off and convinced Freud was not much more than an overeducated creeper.

Since the tragedy every major network with a resident psychologist has tried to psychoanalyze the mind of Loughner: social constraints, political persuasions, chemical reactions, and stunted emotional growth has all been posited as the source of his madness. The whole world has gone straight Dr. Phil in it’s obsession with the dark mind(lessness) of this murderer. In the midst of our diagnosing something has been tragically lost.

I agree with Kevin DeYoung when he says the root of the issue is found in this: The word “evil.” 

When people want to make such a horrific event a soapbox opportunity for gun rights or heated campaign rhetoric I cringe a bit. These are ancillary to the heart issue. Loughner wasn’t just a madman in the psychological sense, he was an evil man in the most real and concrete sense.

Why in the world would the media be so reluctant to call a cold-blooded murderer exactly what he is?

Because that would imply a moral code with absolutes, and being absolutely sure about right and wrong is almost as big a cultural party foul as being literally deranged. A crazy man who killed and died as a mere psychological anomaly is easier for our consciences to swallow than a man who is shockingly evil and died to maybe find himself in an actual eternal hell.

Jesus said Satan, the greatest manifestation of evil, was a “murderer from the very beginning” (John 8:44). How are we to label people like Loughner who side with the evil one? Just victims of a mental disorder? Merely brainwashed? Society’s failures?

No.

“Evil” is the word for them. If we lose that biblical label we must necessarily lose the ability to label anything “Good” also. If there is no good there is no God (Luke 18:18-19), and that is the very mental state a man like Loughner found himself in. 

Godless, lost, sinful and evil.

We are all of these apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

May Christ, and not pop psychology, be found to be the only cure for these scourges on our human soul (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Bryan Daniels

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