The great asymmetry
Europe and America are experiencing a high level of tumult and anxiety in the last 24 months, thanks to a number of deranged people and terrorists who have a killing impulse. Amateur and professional analysts alike wonder if this ugly turn of events is all part of a new uptick in evil, or the by-product of social media instantly inspiring fear in billions of people who have immediate and graphic access to these gross acts of cruelty.
The jury is out on that question, though many of us believe that widespread attention is a great motivator for these sick individuals. What I like to remember in such anxious times is what I have long thought of as The Great Asymmetry. For every tragedy and act of evil that makes the news, tens of thousands of acts of goodness and kindness do not. In the very weeks that heinous shootings took place in Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Orlando, we must not forget that 320 million Americans did not engage in mortal violence. The vast majority of our populace was, and is, interested in making the world a beautiful and safe place to live.
Evil tends to loom much larger in the human psyche than goodness. One cockroach in a banquet hall can destroy a party for hundreds of otherwise happy and contented guests. The Great Asymmetry easily draws our attention in directions of distress.
We would be wise to pay more attention to goodness than we often do. Anne Frank’s words come to mind here. Just days before the Nazis discovered and killed this fifteen-year-old girl in hiding, she wrote in her diary of what she called the “ever approaching thunder.” “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.”
Anne Frank writes of people being good at heart. Scholar William Barclay points out that there are two words for “good” in the New Testament. One has to do with a person who is morally without fault. This individual may be unlovely or sour, but she is morally good. The other type of good has to do with what Barclay calls a “winsome attractiveness.”
In these times of tumult and anxiety, Christian people need to aim for that winsome attractiveness – that intrinsic goodness that will win the world over to beautiful things. We cannot merely cry out for that which we are against (e.g. terrorism, violence as entertainment, racially motivated shootings, pornography). We must also espouse all that we are for (e.g. justice, peace, affordable housing for the poor, kindness charity, love, humility).
Embodying such winsome attractiveness will go a long way toward helping others not be stricken by The Great Asymmetry.
– Peter Marty, senior pastor