Finally! We have reached the new year, which means we can sober up from the prolonged stupor of the prior year. We can look at our score, call it a mulligan, and play a new round. We are told “New Year, New You” repeatedly and we believe that we can alter the course of our lives by adopting a few new resolutions.
And then we are met by a headline that begins: “Chicago torture video.”
A mentally-handicapped man being tortured live on Facebook takes the luster off of our hopes for a new start. As much as we try with our rigid work schedules, extracurricular activities, and locked-door neighborhoods, we can’t shut out the world around us. We know that Chicago is a violent place. We know such violence can be particularly malicious.
Then we see a live video of a kidnapped, handicapped man being tortured with laughter in the background, and we feel it. We can’t help it—we are united in some degree to others. We can dismiss the pain of others, but we can’t ignore it.
Thank you, Internet, for streaming the worst of humanity into our homes whether we like it or not.
So how do we reconcile the bevy of new resolutions and optimism with the clear knowledge that there is a brokenness embedded within the bones of this world and human nature?
First, we must reconcile within our hearts certain fundamental truths. We decry the brokenness because we expect beauty. If this were not true, we would always be cynical and nihilistic. We believe that there is an essential value to this world and to the human person in particular. We know that we were created for more than this.
We judge such behavior (though usually not our own) because we know that God judges such behavior (Psalm 14:3). God’s attributes are clearly known to mankind, so that we are all left without excuse for our brokenness (Romans 1:18-20). Our broken hearts seek out a restored beauty that they themselves cannot muster. We cry out with the Psalmist that the Lord would make the bones that he has broken in his judgment rejoice once more (Psalm 51:8).
Second, we must recognize our responsibility—knowing what we do about God—to ameliorate the plight of those suffering. Each person is created in the image of God. Our hearts break over the brokenness of that image. We are appalled by the Chicago torture incident, not only because of the suffering of that poor man, but by the callousness of his torturers. We see the image of God thoroughly desecrated in all five people involved with that video.
How do we prevent such desecration? At least as it pertains to race, we get to know those we view as “other.” When different racial groups live entirely apart from one another, they treat each other as faceless figures—as monolithic masses—with no inherent, individual dignity. In that way, we all participate in this particular form of brokenness. We can cross these invisible lines and stake a claim in the residue of beauty that can still be had amidst the brokenness.
We reconcile the original beauty and present brokenness in our own hearts, then we recognize our responsibility in light of these truths. Finally, we must each individually find our rest in the God who stands over it all. “Our hearts are restless,” St. Augustine declared, “until they can find rest in you.” To combat sin and suffering in this world, we must own these realities within our own hearts. We then bring them to the Savior who declares “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Our labors in this world gain eternal meaning and hope because of the labor of the Son of God on our behalf. We reflect upon his saving work alongside the present decay and, rather than grow cynical, we get to work. We can be but a tissue for the world’s tears, but there will be a day when Christ will wipe them away once and for all (Rev. 21:4).