“Those people”

I’m reading Left to Tell, a memoir written by a survivor of the Rwandan holocaust. I’m normally a quick reader, but knowing what’s coming in the book has slowed me down. Although I know that the book also shows the best of humanity in the face of the worst, it’s hard to face. We hate to acknowledge that part of our world – the part that is broken nearly beyond recognition. It’s a part of history I’d rather ignore and pretend doesn’t exist to be honest.

But it does exist.

More than just being ugly, I think I’ve been struggling with the fact that “these people” aren’t much different from me. We’d like to pretend that they are, but when research evaluates historical crimes against humanities (like the Jewish Holocaust in Germany), we don’t find a breed of humans that are unusually sadistic (though, for sure, there are some bad apples in the bunch). But most of “those people” are much like us, but caught up in something, some way of thinking, some ideology, some propaganda, some belief system that’s bigger than they are. (Milgram’s Obedience to Authority experiment, and Zimbardo’s prison experiment are prime examples of research documenting that “normal” people are capable of appalling behavior.) We like to believe that we’re different, that we would stand up for justice – and with all my heart, I do hope that I would be willing to stand up – but statistically speaking, we’re more likely to be among the group than to go against the flow.

That’s what makes reading this book so difficult. By my very broken nature, I hate.

As we well know, this is not a modern phenomenon. We’ve been drawing lines and dividing ourselves since sin entered the world. The faces change. The reasons change. The nations change. But, the struggle remains.

I think this is why John concentrates on the idea of love (agape) in his letters. He gets it. On our own, we will tear each other apart. But because we’re in Christ, we now are filled with His love:

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)

John continues,

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:18-19)

Isn’t that what drives us to destruction? Our own fear. Fear of “the other.” Fear of our diversity. Fear of our own vulnerability. Fear of our own power. But, if we know God, if we know Him well, there is no fear, but perfect love. This perfect love isn’t of ourselves, but from God first.

With this in mind, I can feel hope for humanity.


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