I’ve heard it said that a high percentage of the population is potentially malevolent.¹ At first I questioned the accuracy of that number but I’ve reluctantly come to accept that it’s probably true.
Basically, malevolence can be identified through these indicators:
- (psychopathy) amoral, impulsive, antisocial
- (narcissistic) superiority, gratification, entitlement, dominance
- (machiavellian) manipulative, calculating, spiteful, seeking personal gain
To be clear, I’m not saying that every second person you meet wants to kill you – there are all kinds of degrees, limitations, possibilities. But at the same time there are a lot of people who will become irrationally dangerous if given opportunity.
You don’t have to watch the news for long to see hints of malevolence in the words and actions of our society: egos, narcissism, lies, threats. It’s even apparent in politics, justice, and religion – the very places where they are most dangerous. It feels like malevolence is running rampant in the silliest issues and what is especially frightening is that good people enable the bad while hoping for good.
But forgive me, this isn’t a fearful, depressing blog – it’s actually a hopeful blog!
Crayola would invent a better name if was a crayon but the only way I can describe the colour of the sunrise this morning is bright pinkish-mauve. Of course the glorious shading became even more memorable when I paired it with the smell and taste of The First Morning Coffee.
That was then, this is now: the sun has continued its journey to the other side of the house, brightening our office window and revealing the secret streaks from a recent cleaning. There, drinking in the warmth, the tentacles of a Thanksgiving Cactus I’m babysitting are now sprouting colour. The plant has embarked on its annual bloom, encircling itself with dozens and dozens of splayed petals painted in bright fuchsias and subtle creams.²
It is wonderful. So wonderful that I can’t ignore it; can’t enter the room without commenting on it; can’t walk past it without taking a picture.
I’m pretty sure that’s how God thinks about sunrises and Thanksgiving cactuses too. And pretty much everything else. He intentionally made everything to be wonderful.
There is lots of Are thegoodness?
Music, for example. Why are words expressed musically more pleasing and more memorable than words spoken plainly? I wonder who the first people were who began to incorporate music into their lives? It’s an interesting concept if you think about it: stretched, fluctuating sounds woven together into a fluid, captivating sound.
The possibilities for wonder are almost endless:
A baby’s chubby feet. A wiggling puppy.
Words that are poetic, descriptive, informative.
Aroma of lavender. Smell of baking.
Salt, butter, ice cream, bacon, oranges.
Rhythms. Mountains. Barns.
Laughter. Hugs. Fresh air.
But can there be wonder in our being? Can invisible human qualities like patience, forgiveness, hope be wonder-full? Actually, yes – of course. In fact, there is nothing quite as wonderful as intangibles like contentment, peace, rebirth.
Christians often think of the spiritual life in terms of our senses and beliefs: church attendance, sermons, doctrine, tears, membership, giving. But truthfully, our time is poorly spent when we obsess over anything less important than love and wonder.
Morality is understood by rules. Worship is measured by music. The Bible is a manual. Prayer is words said and answers received. But the truth is that morality is not enforceable; worship has little to do music; the Bible is ancient reflection; prayer is not communication, it’s communion.
Consider Saint Paul’s thoughts about how our lives are meant to be lived. The last paragraph underscores what is important, meaningful, eternal.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The word ‘gentleness’ jumped out at me. What a simple and wonderful way to act.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” ³
Read that last paragraph again (emphasis mine).
Honestly, isn’t that the kind of world you want to live in? I mean, whether or not you are a person of faith, doesn’t that sound amazing?
But do these qualities ring true with the priorities of the people you follow, spend time with, listen to? Does the social media you watch or re-post promote the beauty of these biblical imperatives? Do our politicians, pastors, teachers even come close to these standards?
For that matter, do these words ring true in your life? Christians should be very different than the bad actors around us who get noticed.
Just so you know, malevolent people don’t produce things of beauty and wonder. Ever.
cactus blossom wonder
I think you will agree that we all want to live in a wonderful world, free of malevolence. A world where lying, bullying, revenge, self-entitlement, and outrage are pushed away. Like the cactus, wouldn’t it be great if slow blossoms of wonder-fullness could begin to replace the caustic coarseness around us?
It is up to you and me to replace the death of malevolence with ways that are life-giving.
We should learn to look inward and examine our own motives, scars, attitudes – and where they are taking us.
Then we need to be courageous enough to ignore malevolence and stop enabling it in even the smallest ways. Period.
Then we ask for God’s help to begin to live the goodnesses Paul described.
You’re wonderful. It’s true, even though I don’t know most of you. Scripture tells us we are a complex, wonderful creation; we’re beloved children.
What if the wonderful people in the world were so wonderful that “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable…” became habitual and normalized in the world?
There’s no better time to start bringing joy to the world.
~ ~ ~
¹ Capable of viciousness, spite, or hatred.
² Yeah, that’s a picture of it, up under the title.
³ Philippians 4:4-8, NIV