In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: “If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” This is a very harsh glimpse in the mirror – the kind you usually catch at 3 a.m. – during one of those long dark nights of the soul as you stand alone in the bathroom, exposed by glare of an unshaded light. The 3 a.m. mirror is the mirror of truth; but it’s not one that many of us care to acknowledge. I don’t want to be evil; but if I sometimes am, I don’t want anyone to know it; so I dash about madly trying to cover it up and pretend like it doesn’t exist. No matter where I go though…there I am. Why can’t we just round-up all the evil people and shove them off the edge of the world? Then we could stop worrying about it.
We try to do that don’t we? Every time the news shows us a “criminal” and goes on to describe the “alleged” hideous acts perpetrated by that person, we want to lock them up and throw away the key. They don’t need a trial; the news has told us all we need to know. Prison’s too good for them anyway. Why should we have to pay for their upkeep? And then of course once they have paid for their crime, we don’t want them coming back to live near us…”not in my neighborhood.” We don’t want to hire them, we don’t want to feed them, and we damn sure don’t want them living on our streets. They are evil – unlike the rest of us.
Our criminal justice system as it stands today has seen the rate of incarceration explode from less than 350,000 people in 1972 to over 2 million people by 2010. Currently there are 7 million people caught in up in the criminal justice system who are trying to survive under the stigma of being labeled a felon. When we label someone a felon, we do so with indelible ink. The label is tattooed on for life and it gives us permission to discriminate liberally. It is a state-sponsored sacrificial lamb system that is a booming business for a number of corporate and political interests – all so that we don’t have to take a look in the 3 a.m. mirror of our own propensity for evil.
But it never works. The more evil we round-up and destroy, the more evil bubbles to the surface. Evil cannot be destroyed with more evil – and that – is the message of the cross. The cross reveals to us the deep truth that God does not defeat evil with evil but through the power of divine love. Our world is characterized by violence; violence that we perpetrate – either wittingly or unwittingly. When we are hurt we want revenge; but the crucifixion of Jesus exposes the fallacy of the inescapable circle of violence and counter-violence. God does not reconcile through any form of violence; the cross is God’s free and costly gift of love whose goal is the transformation of the world into one of compassion and solidarity. God’s way of life is greater than our way of death. “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being…” There is no escaping this; but we do get to choose which side of the line we occupy.