Imagine you’re a small boy and two men from the government let your mother know your father has had an accident. He fell, or jumped, out of a 13th story hotel room in New York. It is 1953 and your father is a germ warfare scientist. Over the rest of your life, you will discover the government has told one lie after the other, so as to conceal secrets considered—even today—vital for national security. Over decades, you wade through a wet jungle of human depravity, and it includes deceit, cover stories, bribes, and murder. To make things even more depressing, it’s all being orchestrated by your own government.
On Christmas day, this is just a little “emblematic depravity” for your holiday pleasure. The makers of the docudrama “Wormwood” (Netflix), may only have half the story. Perhaps the germ scientist in question was about to reveal secrets to our enemies. It’s possible in this world of sin that competing men, each thinking themselves in the right, did things that were horribly wrong.
I’m coming to believe that true happiness escapes the Godless because they don’t understand what a gift depravity can be in teaching us who we are—and how universally we suffer from it. We’re living in a world of ever increasing moral ugliness, even as we demand a justice that exempts us from any blame. Someone else always poisons the punch: profit-hungry corporations, groping producers, “patriarchs,” cloak-and-dagger G-men.
We watch the crusading documentary-maker because he promises us the white robes of the innocent. We would never go capture killer whales and put them on display in marine parks, if it were up to us. (Well, uh, okay, we actually paid to see a few of those shows, but now that we’re sensing where the herd is going on this, we can confidently say we would never have been part of the problem, because that’s just the sort of people we are. Good people.)
We live in the age that routinely absorbs this advice, as though it represented the 11th commandment: “how can you love anyone if you don’t love yourself?”
The fact is, we’re not very lovable. The only difference between the sort of depravity we hear about in the corridors of power, and our own “audience depravity” is sheer scale. Can you imagine someone like Joy Behar wielding the power to unmask the secret lives of her enemies? If we’re “basically good,” then life boils down to finding out who the bad guys are. Blame it all on the NRA and get back to loving yourself for the beautiful person you really are.
We live in a sink of corruption, folks, because WE are that corruption. Torture yourself with your own portion of it for a few moments. I think of the times I should have spent with my children, and I cringe. I think of the kindnesses that I could have offered, but withheld. I think of the times I tried to be funny, but wound up sounding cruel. I think of the hearts I may have broken. I think of the sloth, and the gluttony, and the lust and the pride that made my life smaller.
At Christmas, I think it might be good to fit out and make seaworthy a term our ancestors knew well: “Sin.” Stop loving yourselves for a moment and realize that your world is darkened, daily, by your selfishness, your pride, your failure to honor your parents, your failure to love your spouse, your failure to teach your children, your failure to praise and worship God.
I’m convinced that the knowledge of our own depravity, the ugly truth that makes us fear God, is the beginning of wisdom.
Without that knowledge, we can’t possibly know what makes us weep when we consider “the glories of His righteousness, and the wonders of His love.” The depth of your sin measures the grandeur of His love: you’re not lovable at all, and yet He still loves you.