Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A shattering truth

"And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold." Matthew 24:12
It's one of greatest blessings and curses we have as humans: The ability to be shocked.

On the one hand, there is an outrage that has a temporal cleansing effect on civil society. We were, after all, outraged that terrorists killed so many on Sept. 11, 2001. Faceless cowards we called them. Coward, mind you, is a pretty silly thing to call a terrorist who is willing to die for a cause, especially when we call our soldiers heroes for their willingness to put their life on the line. But I digress.

On the other hand, shock value is simply the measure of our consternation when something breaches our comfort zone. Like our conscience, our ability to be shocked is meaningless if it isn't stiffened by a real standard of morality. Never is this better illustrated than in this fantastic quote from the 1961 film "Judgment at Nuremberg." I haven't been able to confirm whether the quote has any basis in the real court record. I just know that the movie version of Judge Dan Haywood, played so ably by Spencer Tracy, issues a compelling call for introspection.
"(Ernst) Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination."
Able and extraordinary men. Remember, the law of love is the summary of God's Law. Everyone's conscience and ability to love, taken by themselves, are as fragile and weak as our sinful brokenness. Today you can see it in the aimless wanderings of those who set themselves up as ethical experts — each using a different set of metrics to determine, for example, how much inherent value a human life has at different ages.

Had some of the men tried and convicted at Nuremberg immigrated to England or the United States before the rise of the nazi state, no doubt we would by now have buildings and streets named in their honor. Likewise, if "the love" of many in our nation is tested with any measure similar to what those men faced in Germany, who is to say how many would be championing "crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination?"

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