When the world feels scary

Three weeks ago, Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in a county jail for rape. The judge didn’t want his punishment to have a severe impact on him.

Two weeks ago, an ’08 Wheaton alumnus murdered his pregnant wife. He stabbed her to death with a knife, killing his baby as well.

Last week, an angry American shooter walked into a bar and killed 49 people with a gun.

When I was little, I thought about evil as something distant. I knew there were bad guys like Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil, but I thought these villains were a strange and rare phenomenon. I thought that the rest of us were pretty good—not perfect, for sure—but not that bad either.

Then, something happened my sophomore year at college that made me wonder if I was wrong.

I met Alex during orientation week at school. He came down to hang out in the floor lounge and welcomed me by chatting about why I came to Wheaton. He lived on my brother floor, so we were casual friends that year. By my sophomore year we’d kind of lost touch. On the evening of February 24th, I got a text from my roommate asking if I had seen the news. I googled Wheaton College and found this: “Wheaton Student Accused of Videotaping Women in Shower.” Then I saw Alex’s mugshot.

Alex was supposed to be one of the good guys. If he could do something so horrible, could I trust anyone to be different? I was suddenly frightened of being hurt by the people I thought I trusted.

I’m a senior at college now and I’ve been thinking a lot about Alex lately. It’s taken me a long time, but I’m slowly rejecting the narrative of the good guys vs the bad guys. I’m realizing that I have in me the same capacity for evil as Brock or Alex. We all have it.

The poison of Adam and Eve’s rebellion courses through our tiny bodies at birth. But we’re also born with the weight of glory. We all share the dignity of God’s image imprinted on our hearts. Like Jekel and Hyde, we wrestle with a dual identity.

This Sunday, Fr Martin preached on Christ’s treatment of the fear of sin. He said that to “increase the opportunity for virtue to take root in ourselves and in our world [we must] first cultivate the habit of recognizing our own sinfulness precisely as we see it in others.” Like David confronted by Nathan, we must realize that the sin we see in someone else reflects our own. When I am angry over someone else’s sin, I ought to stop and ask myself: how does this person’s action mirror the darkness in my own soul? What must I repent of?

But I’m often more outward focused than inward. I look around me and I’m frightened. I’m frightened because I can’t know who will make choices like Alex and who won’t. I tell myself that a few people will make some extremely harmful choices, and scores of other people won’t make those choices. But I still don’t really feel safe.

In this tension, I’m learning to choose thoughtful trust. There will always be potential for harm and betrayal, but I won’t allow fear to control me. I have to focus on my own choices and entrust the rest to God.

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