“People are no damn good,” Jonathan’s grandpa often told us, shrugging his shoulders in resignation at the state of the world when the news brought stories of evil to his door. Grandma would shush him, admonishing him to watch his language, but to no effect; the phrase became a family staple, one uttered on a regular basis with the ebb and flow of life in a fallen world.
Grandma and Grandpa are both gone now, gone to a place where they no longer experience the truth of such a saying, but more and more in recent months, I’ve found occasion to remember, to agree with Grandpa in his assessment of mankind.
People are no damn good, I rage, as men crazed by false religion, blinded by hate, behead those who disagree with them, sell young girls into hellish slavery for the faith they profess.
People are no damn good, I cry, as a deceived twenty-one year-old boy turns his handgun on those who have welcomed him, speeds nine souls to a far-too-early death as they read their bibles, as they pray.
People are no damn good, I mourn, as conflicts between citizens and police escalate, as black men fall to cops’ guns, as looting and rioting tear cities apart in response.
People are no damn good, I empathize, as I hear of broken church leadership, of loved ones who have been deeply hurt by the actions of those in authority over them.
People are no damn good, I mutter, as I deal with a rental left trashed, bills left unpaid, as we put many thousands of dollars into repairing and painting and cleaning a home we loved.
People are no damn good, I think, as the internet explodes after a controversial court ruling, as harsh words and hatred and anger are expressed from both sides of the debate.
People are no damn good, I realize, as my own heart condemns those around me, as it gravitates away from love, as it chooses darkness over light.
People are no damn good. We are frail, broken, hopeless, every one of us, hurting ourselves and hurting others as we stumble through this life. We are no damn good, and the world shudders under the weight of our fallen humanity.
And yet, Mr. Rogers comes to mind, and his challenge to look for the helpers, to find the hope. To see the good, even when surrounded by evil.
To see those who continue to gather in secret in the Middle East, those who worship and pray despite the risk. To see those who denounce the evil, who rise up to fight against it, who work to free those who are bound.
To see the unearthly love and mercy and forgiveness expressed by those who have had something indefinably precious stolen from them, to hear and wonder at their message to a murderer.
To see the peaceful protests, to find those who are willing to listen, to engage, to repent, to strive for better.
To see the friends and family who draw near to those who are hurting, who offer their hearts and their hands and their voices in support, who denounce the actions of those who abuse their power.
To see the brokenness and pain behind a person’s ugly behavior, to weep for it and have compassion, to have gratitude for those who have skills and abilities to restore and repair.
To see those whose words express love, even in the midst of disagreement, who discuss hot issues online without resorting to name-calling or finger-pointing.
To see my own desire to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly, and to recognize my grief over my own sin.
And this is the great paradox of this faith I hold, the simultaneous truth that is often impossible to balance: people are no damn good, but we are made in the image of God, molded by His hand. We are broken, miserable, wretched, wreaking havoc wherever we go, and yet His love pursues us, shines through us even when we don’t realize its source.
People are no damn good. But God? God is. And He loves and He redeems and He calls us His own, and from Him come all things good. People are no damn good, but somehow, through the blood of the Lamb, He takes our filthy rags and makes them clean again, takes our broken hearts and makes them whole.
People are no damn good, but God? God is.