‘How Could Anyone Do Something Like That?’

We all need an honest appraisal of who we are:

The older we get as Christians, the more we should be utterly convinced of two fundamental truths: we are all selfish sinners, and we all really need God’s grace. I certainly find these two core realities to be so very true as I age and understand myself more, and as I understand God more.

Let me speak to this by noting an increasingly popular and much-viewed television genre: true crime reality shows. There are heaps of these out there nowadays, and the masses must really like watching them. Perhaps this is because more and more folks have become victims of crime themselves, or know of those who have.

Whatever the reason, these shows are now ubiquitous. And if you happen to spend a few minutes watching some of them, they can be all rather depressing. Man’s inhumanity to man is not just a saying – it is a reality. But the Christian knows that at bottom what must really be taken into account is the reality of sin.

I will discuss these biblical and theological truths in a moment, but let me first discuss a segment I recently saw that has triggered this piece. It was on a show about ‘the most terrifying emergency calls’ or some such thing. They reenact the scene and play parts of the actual emergency phone call.

In this case a terrified mother had called to alert the authorities to some horrific activities: she and her husband were being brutally assaulted by their own two sons! The boys tried everything they could think of to murder their parents. They drugged the parents and first tried to burn the house down.

When that did not work they beat them, stabbed them, shot at them, and so on. Utterly diabolical. It was only because the police could get there in time that the parents managed to survive this frenzied and demonised attack. And even more amazingly, they did not want to press charges against their sons. They did not want them jailed.

They offered forgiveness and wanted to try again in relations with them. But thankfully the judge had more sense in this instance. Anyone willing to brutally murder their own parents is clearly a threat to society, and they would likely resort to more such actions. So the pair got lengthy prison sentences.

I am not sure of all the reasons for their rage, but they said they were brought up too strictly by the parents, and so on. They were old enough to simply leave the comfortable suburban home, but they decided to kill their parents instead. One of them even said he had been wanting to kill the parents since he was 11 years old!

I do not know all the details of this sad case, but I do know that a number one reaction of most folks would be that of my title: ‘How could anyone do something like that?’ That would be a normal response. But I here want to say several things about this.

One, it is indeed a normal response, and we all should respond this way. That is because we are all moral creatures, we all have a sense of right and wrong, we all have a conscience, and we all should be appalled at pure evil. Of course all this has been deeply impacted by the Fall and by sin.

Thus our consciences can become dulled and our sense of right and wrong can be distorted. We can ignore our inner moral compass and we can become oblivious to what is good and evil. But even still, most folks would be aghast at what these two young men tried to do. ‘How could they do that?’

So that is a right reaction to have. But a second thing must be said. And that is this: the more you know the Lord, the more you will know the reality of sin. And the more you will know the evil that lurks in the human heart. In other words, you know the reality of the saying, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

This is where many Christians stumble. They really believe that they could never be this evil. They are convinced they could never do such horrible acts – especially to their own parents. But regrettably, they have not yet fully fathomed the reality of sin and selfishness: its depth, its range, its pervasiveness, its ugly reality.

And all this is fully affirmed both in Scripture and in human history and experience. It was Chesterton who once put it this way: “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

‘But,’ protests the typical Christian: ‘I have NEVER murdered anyone and I never COULD murder anyone!’ While I am glad they have not yet resorted to murder, these folks clearly have ignored or disbelieved the clear teachings of Jesus.

As we read in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

I am not aware of anyone on planet earth who has never gotten angry or who has never hated someone. According to Jesus, that makes you just as bad as a murderer. So we do not get off the hook here. We are all guilty. And given the right (or wrong) circumstances, we all could be pushed to doing things as evil and reprehensible as these two brothers.

The main things that keep most of us in check – and more or less moral – are civilisation, conscience, and cops. As to the first, it has rightly been said that ‘the veneer of civilisation is exceedingly thin.’ That is, take away some of the trappings of the society we live in, and all of us could be tempted to do things that we think we are not capable of.

We see this happening all the time. For example, when there is a widespread black out or power failure that goes on for some days, guess what? Crime rates increase dramatically. Folks think that they can get away with all sorts of things if no one is looking.

As has also been said, integrity is what we do when no one is watching. We have all been tempted to do bad things, but often it is the fear of being caught, or concern about what others might think, that prevents us from carrying out such schemes.

Given certain circumstances, we all can be capable of not just contemplating but carrying our great evil. I have often written about one popular 1993 Hollywood film in this regard: Falling Down starring Michael Douglas. A seemingly ordinary Joe snaps, and ends up going on a killing spree. The truth is, we are all capable of this. See this writeup for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/04/falling-down-and-mass-murder/

I began by saying that we must embrace two core biblical truths: we are all dirty rotten scoundrels (sinners) and we all desperately need the grace of God in our lives. The more we see clearly and with God’s perspective our own human hearts, and how easy we all can go off the rails, the more we should appreciate, crave and cling to God and his matchless mercy and grace.

The two absolutely go together. We will only ever fully appreciate and love God’s mercy, compassion, patience and grace unless we first understand our own exceeding sinfulness. We need to know who this holy and perfect God is, and how we completely fail to measure up.

And that by the way is why so many people who might respond at some church service or evangelisation meeting are never really converted. They were NOT told the gospel. They were sold a bill of goods, but not biblical truth.

They were told to come to Jesus to have their ‘best life now.’ They were conned into thinking that becoming a Christian means all your troubles and problems will disappear. They think that Christianity is just a self-help program, and they believe God to be a celestial butler always ready to do their every bidding. No, that is not the gospel.

Anyone who does not first hear and comprehend the bad news of their own sinful condition will never be in a place to rightly receive the good news that Jesus came to die for SINNERS, and not the righteous. And by turning from our sin in faith and repentance, based on the finished work of Christ, we can get right with God and experience new life in him.

Until we start again preaching the biblical gospel, and not all the fake man-made ones that are so popular right now, we will not see true conversions and we will not see God being glorified. The other day I shared an important quote from the noted Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones in this regard.

He was speaking about the opening verses of Ephesians chapter 2, and he said this:

[M]ost of our troubles are due to the fact that we are guilty of a double failure; we fail on the one hand to realise the depth of sin, and on the other hand we fail to realise the greatness and the height and the glory of our salvation. Oftentimes we are content to think of our salvation merely in terms of the forgiveness of sins. Not that one wants to depreciate that, for there is nothing more wonderful or more glorious. My point is that to stop at that is surely tragic. And I verily believe that the whole condition and state of the Church today is largely due to the fact that we fail at both points. It is because we never realise the depth of the pit out of which we have been brought by the grace of God that we do not thank God as we ought. And then there is our failure to realise the great heights to which He has raised us. That is what the apostle is dealing with now.

The more we understand the depths of our own depravity (yes, even as Christians), the more we will utterly love and cherish the matchless grace of God. The more we see ourselves as God sees us – as sinners desperately in need of new life, cleansing, renewal and sanctification – the more we will appreciate what God has done for us in Christ.

I can say I did not murder my own parents. But there were many times when I did not love them as I should have. As such, my story will not appear on one of these true crime programs, but in God’s eyes, I am every bit as much of a sinner in need of redemption as these two brothers are.

If I ever were to go off the deep ends like they did, I would hope you would all be fully shocked and sickened by what I did. But I also hope you understand that we are all capable of such violent of crimes, apart from the grace of God.

Assuming that these two men are still locked away in prison somewhere, I at least can offer up a few prayers on their behalf. Whether they have ever shown any remorse, or ever sought forgiveness from their parents – and more importantly, from God – I just do not know.

But I can leave you with two concluding quotes:

“My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.” (Former slave ship captain and author of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton)

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:12)

[1976 words]

6 Replies to “‘How Could Anyone Do Something Like That?’”

  1. I have made some doozy bad choices in my early life, I have sinned in one area which makes me guilty of the whole law.
    Since I have grown up, just the tinniest bit being 55, still learning, I have made the choice to forgo my natural self, and am working on seeing everything through the lens of Jesus’ teachings.
    All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, which puts us all at risk of the death sentence, which is perfectly warranted for justice to be satisfied. The only thing Disciples of Christ have, is Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
    I have been baptised in Christ, which symbolises death, burial and resurrection with Christ, and now I try to put on the new man, which is Christ and his example.
    Hoping beyond hope to have less sin, more forgiveness, more love and more charity towards others, then let the chips fall where they may.

  2. We are all evil immoral and corrupt. Anyone of us is capable of doing any type of evil immoral thing. It’s all a choice. We all have a choice and we all have free will.

  3. Thanks Bill, the incident of two sons attempting to murder their parents seems unheard of but it reminds me of 2 Samuel 13 onwards how king David’s son Absalom wanted to take over the kingdom from his father which was a result from David’s affair with Bathsheba. I’m not sure if Absalom would kill his father for power but his men might have so David had to flee Jerusalem until Absalom is killed by Joab, then it seems the whole of Israel wants to make David their king while David mourns for his son Absalom. Absalom had a few years before killed his half brother Ammon who had raped Absalom’s sister. There wasn’t much law and order in the Old Testament like we have police today so a lot of people did what seemed right to them, as they still do today with domestic violence etc. The Bible shows many circumstances to show how sinful man is. Hard to know what to do sometimes balancing between forgiveness and judgement as every case is different.

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