By now you have heard about actor Michael Richard's ("Kramer", of Seinfeld fame) recent racist diatribe against two hecklers at a comedy club where he was doing his stand-up routine. Flustered, Richards lost his temper and began screaming and hurtling racist insults at the two African-Americans. Certainly the language Richards used in personally attacking these people cannot be condoned in a civilized society-- moreover, on the street, these kinds of words can get people killed. Yet while Richard's words were certainly horrific, it seems to me that there is a kind of self-righteous hypocrisy in the standards people use to condemn the "celebrity" (not too long ago, Mel Gibson and his anti-Semitic tirade were a target) caught making such an outburst.
Because I would venture to say that all people have both good and bad impulses in them. Who among us has not at one time or another harbored dark thoughts, or worse yet, acted upon our baser impulses? Have you ever cursed someone on the highway, been a "road rage" maniac, picked a fight with someone, cursed a telecommuter, not given up your seat on the bus for an elderly person or pregnant woman, etc, etc? I am not excusing or justifying any of these actions; I am only saying that we live in a society full of people, including ourselves, who, in thousands of incidents every day, give vent to rage or selfishness or evil in all the myriad forms that the sinful human heart produces.
Yet because we are made in the image of a holy God, I think there is something deep within us-- I call it God-given conscience-- that recognizes that acting upon the evil impulses within makes us into something less than we can or ought to be. And we desire to curb and to fight such impulses, because the Creator has told us that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. In order to do so, we must war against the selfishness and darkness we find within ourselves. In doing so we will become the noble creatures we were created to be, capable of expressing honor and love and goodness.
Would any of us want to be judged and forever defined by a single particularly bad incident or evil act in our lives? And whatever evil impulses we have actually acted upon, there are probably far worse thoughts we have secretly entertained, perhaps reasoning that thinking it is not as bad as doing it. However the standard of a holy God is not only that we refrain from the evil act, but also that we not even entertain the evil thought, the thought being the father of the deed. With such a standard, is there any among us not guilty of sin? What if our ugly, secret thoughts were publicly broadcast? Is there any among us with mind and heart so clean that they would volunteer for such an airing?
So yes, as a society that aspires to be decent and good, let us not allow reprehensible and evil deeds to go unchecked, but let us also extend grace to our neighbor, knowing that the evil within his heart that causes him to sometimes do awful things is the same evil that is within me, and could result in the same acts in my life, but for the grace of God.
And it is the grace of God to which we must turn, if we are to escape the curse of the sinful human heart. On this Thanksgiving Day, let us thank the Lord that he did not leave us in this world without a remedy to this age-old problem, but sent His Son Jesus Christ to become our sin-bearer, the One who takes away the sin of the world. Only in Him will we find the freedom we are searching for.