We are repulsed when we see barbaric acts of inhumanity committed against other human beings. But the sad truth is we all are capable of violence and evil. What is the solution to the wickedness in our hearts?
In the aftermath of the March mass shootings in New Zealand, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “These people don’t deserve names. Names imply some sort of humanity. … He’s not human. He doesn’t deserve a name.”
The idea is that the gunman who killed 50 people in the Christchurch mosques was so barbaric and abhorrent that he shouldn’t be identified as a human being. Mr. Morrison’s statement makes violent behavior seem like a radical anomaly in mankind’s history, but just a brief look at history shows that the recent Christchurch shootings were not an anomaly. They actually are part of a long line of inhumanity, violence and evil.
Man’s inhumanity to man
Consider some other recent examples of violence in the news that haven’t gotten as much worldwide attention:
- The Rohingya in Myanmar: Rohingya Muslims are fleeing Myanmar (formerly Burma) by the thousands to escape violence against them by the Buddhist majority. There are now over 730,000 Rohingya living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
- Civil war in Sudan and South Sudan: One of the first genocides of the 21st century occurred in Darfur, Sudan, a region in western Sudan where government-sponsored Arab militias continue to persecute and massacre the non-Arab population. There was also terrible fighting in South Sudan, and the conclusion of the lengthy civil war in 2005 led to South Sudan gaining independence from Sudan in 2011. But not all the problems were solved, as South Sudan itself contains 60 different major ethnic groups. Just two years after independence, South Sudan fell into another ethnic civil war.
- The Yazidis in Iraq and Syria: In 2014 ISIS seized portions of northwestern Iraq and attempted to eliminate the Yazidis (a religious minority group in the region) by killing or enslaving them.
These and many other atrocities occurred in this 21st century. Much could be said about the mass violence of the 20th century as well, such as the Holocaust; the many other barbaric acts of inhumanity during the two world wars; the genocides in Armenia, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina; the killing fields of Cambodia; Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution; the rape of Nanking and on and on it goes.
So the question is: Does committing mass violence make evil people lose their humanity (as Mr. Morrison said), or is violence actually a part of what humanity is at this present time?
Let’s ask another question: Why is our history filled with violence? Is there something wrong with humanity?
The problem is with the heart
The Bible reveals there is a serious problem with humankind. It’s a problem of the heart.
- The prophet Jeremiah describes our hearts as “deceitful” and “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
- God describes man’s heart as “evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21) and “corrupt” (Psalm 53:3).
- The prophet Isaiah describes our righteousness, that is, what we consider to be good, as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). In other words, human righteousness is inadequate in God’s eyes.
- The Proverbs warn us against trusting our hearts (Proverbs 28:26).
- Solomon describes our hearts as being “full of evil” (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
As human beings, we can find it hard to read these passages. After all, we are the subject matter, and we don’t want to consider ourselves as evil people. These verses don’t describe sin and wickedness as an anomaly that makes a person less human. They describe a selfish human nature as being at the core of what we all are.
How we became this way
How did humanity become this way? The Bible reveals that we were neither created nor born evil. We have become this way, and it all goes back to the Garden of Eden. God presented Adam and Eve two ways of life, symbolized by two trees—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).
They disobeyed God’s command and listened to the cunning lies of Satan (Genesis 2:17; 3:4-6). At that point their eyes were opened to alternative ways of thinking, and God cut off access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:7, 23-24). Since then, humans have been deciding for themselves what is good and evil—and what is right and wrong.
It wasn’t long afterward that Cain killed his brother Abel and started mankind’s long history of violence (Genesis 4:8). The recent shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, were just the most recent of countless violent acts, which can all be traced back to the Garden of Eden.
No, the violent don’t need to repent of being animals—we all need to repent of being ourselves.No, that shooter wasn’t an animal. He was very much a human being (though perhaps one influenced by the evil spirit world). Animals don’t kill out of hatred—they kill out of instinct and self-preservation. It is only humans who kill out of hatred.
But will it always be this way?
Fixing the heart
The solution to these endemic human problems won’t come from us fixing ourselves. The prophet Ezekiel recorded what God will do to change this: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). God continued, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (verse 37).
This is the key.
We need a new heart.
It is only by this new heart that we can fully obey God’s laws and practice His way of love for God and other people (Matthew 22:37-40). We can only receive this new spirit through the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to obey His laws (Hebrews 8:10; Acts 5:32).
Solomon knew the condition of our hearts. He wrote that when we recognize the “plague of [our] own heart,” we are to turn to God in prayer and ask for forgiveness (1 Kings 8:38-39; see also Ezekiel 18:32; 1 John 1:9).
No, the violent don’t need to repent of being animals—we all need to repent of being ourselves.
That’s the first step to becoming less human and more like God.
Learn more in our free booklet Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering?