Boston and the Nature of Man

The tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon have provided a rich glimpse into the current condition of our culture.  Whenever calamity strikes, the recesses of our hearts are revealed as we reflect and speak about what has occurred.

Before the identity of the bombers was even determined, CNN ran an opinion piece by Will Cain asking whether human beings are inherently good or inherently bad.  That is not the kind of question you discuss while standing in line at a fast-food restaurant.  But when bombers purposely attack innocent people, the question of the nature of man is given center stage and rightly so.

Inherently Good?

The writer’s conclusion was that while the bombers were possibly evil, the average person in our world certainly isn’t.  Quoting actor Patton Oswalt (and isn’t that just like our world to quote an actor when discussing metaphysics), Cain said,

The vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

Inherently Sinful.

Students of Scripture view the question through a far different lens.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  While our doctrine of total depravity does not suggest that we are all as bad as we could possibly be (and thank God for that), episodes of violence and brutality cause us to take a long look in the mirror.  No, we didn’t set off a bomb to injure another human being, but what about those hurtful words you spoke in anger last week that cut a person down instead of building him up?  Jesus called that murder, too (Matthew 5:21-22).  Sigh.  If we are depending on our own goodness to “wash away the evil doers,” we are in big trouble.  We need a cleansing agent far more powerful than that, don’t you think? (Hebrews 9:22, 1 Peter 1:19).

Amazingly, our world is now even questioning whether the bombers themselves were evil.  After Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed, reporters opined that the younger brother Dzhokhav was not responsible for his part in the slayings, because he was simply following the example and teachings of his older brother.  As the story continues to unfold, the boys’ uncle is now suggesting that Tamerlan was “brainwashed in America.”  In other words, now the bombers themselves aren’t evil, they were simply led astray by the influences of others.

Exactly what would an individual have to do in this culture before we would look at them and say, “You are an evil person. You were wrong.”?

And when will anyone stand up and say; “what I did was evil.”  No blaming it on other people.  No suggesting that I was simply led astray by others.  “I was wrong.”

Why is it that our culture has such a hard time labeling evil as evil?  Perhaps it is because, if we do so, we know it is a very short walk to having to acknowledge that there are aspects of my own identity that are evil as well.  That conclusion would make us admit our need for Someone Else capable of washing away our evil.  Someone who could forgive us of our sin and grant us a kind of righteousness we could never conjure up on our own.

The city of Boston could easily lead us to a wooden cross if we’d simply be honest about who we inherently are.

Steve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.