|Photo by Michael Shaheen|
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
If only King David hadn’t followed through on his itch for Bathsheba. This “man after God’s own heart”, who killed wild animals with just his hands and slew the nine-foot archenemy of his people with a sling and a stone, murdered an innocent man to cover up the consequences of taking something that wasn’t his to have. It cost him his child and haunted him the rest of his life. David is remembered every bit as well for that illicit tryst as he is for taking down Goliath.
In literature the deleterious trait or internal weakness which lays a character low and undermines or destroys the realization of his or her heroic goal is called a tragic flaw. It’s the thing you hope desperately for the protagonist overcome. It’s what makes you cry, “No! Don’t do it!” when you see the temptation looming.
Today’s media is awash with the story of a modern fallen hero who allegedly indulged his own tragic flaw repeatedly over the decades of his career. His America’s Father image now bears the indelible stain of a rapist. His entire life’s work is buried beneath the steaming pile of shame and rage he’s incited. No one will re-tell his clever and hilarious anecdotes, or recall an episode of his Saturday morning cartoon or his prime-time sit-com, or consider any of the wisdom from any of his books on family and parenting.
He’s a contemptible sham to us all now.
It’s heartbreaking, what he did to those women and what he did to himself and what he did to all of us who thought we knew something about his character.
But it should scare us, too.
Not because we’re afraid of someone like him doing something like that to someone like us, but because every single one of us is capable of doing something dark and horrible and mind-boggling. We each have our own tragic flaw.
I was raised in the church and got serious about God in my mid-twenties. I’ve done some things that I’m grateful happened before cell phone cameras and the internet, and I’m ashamed of my behavior on a fairly daily basis: I’m impatient, self-centered, and frankly kind of judgmental.
I’ve never done anything really bad, though.
But man oh man, there was once a co-worker I hated. I know Christians aren’t supposed to put the word “hate” on anyone, but the feeling was that strong. I eventually couldn’t find one good thing to like about her. I felt that my work life was miserable all because of this person.
Then one day I walked behind where she sat in her chair and got this powerful, visceral, vengeful urge to bludgeon her in the back of the head.
In the fractured moment it took me to imagine that, process that, and be horrified that I imagined and processed that, I caught a blinking glimpse into the darkness that is my heart.
I carry evil around inside me every single moment.
I have it in me to kill.
There is not one reprehensible thing that has ever been done by anyone in the entire history of man that is beyond my nature to perform in kind, should I elect to do so.
And the same can be said of all seven billion of us on the planet.
So while I’m all for justice and accountability and taking responsibility for our actions, I always want to remember one thing when I’m tempted to measure myself against someone else’s behavior and think I’m pretty admirable in comparison:There but for the grace of God go I.