The world is home to monsters. Jekylls and Hydes. Normal by day, terrors by night. People who lose their morals, controllably at first, and soon uncontrollably, in daylight hours, no potion required.
Only sometimes, the monsters aren’t fantasy, aren’t a horror story. They’re real life.
We need only turn on the news. If not today, surely tomorrow, or the next day. Rolling Stone called Jahar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, a monster on its cover. The media called Ariel Castro, the Cleveland serial rapist/tormentor, a monster in court and in live segments. Aaron Alexis, who yesterday shot a dozen dead at the DC Navy Yard, will be called a monster very soon. And it won’t be long until the next monster appears: a terrorist act, a mass shooting, a bigot, a rapist, a murderer.
To call someone a monster is a very obvious kind of dehumanization. And, what is more, an obvious kind of demonization.
I would not defend any of these men. There is no defense. And their punishments — prison or death — may very well be justice — or the closest approximation of justice that fallen human beings can administer.
But I would say, as horrible and repulsive and ignorant as it sounds, they are not monsters. They are people. People like you and I, not in our actions, but in being created in the image of God.
Are these kinds of people — psychopaths and radicals and sickos — included in the love-our-enemies camp? They must be.
I don’t pretend to know all of what it means to love these people appropriately. I certainly don’t know how it feels to be a victim, or even to know a victim, for whom it must be even harder to think about, let alone act on love. But one step is to see them as humans, the sort of humans Jesus wants saved.
Recently, Desmond Tutu was asked about Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad, who is accused by most of the West of using chemical weapons to murder thousands of his own people. “Is he beyond the pale? Are there not some people who just go too far?”
Tutu answered with Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep.
If you look at most of the images in churches, they show the good shepherd carrying a fluffy little lamb. Now fluffy little lambs are not known for wandering away from their mummies. The sheep that is likely to do so is that obstreperous old ram. It’s actually mind-blowing to think a good shepherd says, ‘I’m leaving 99 well-behaved sheep to go and search for this rogue.’
And when he finds it he doesn’t pinch his nostrils. He gathers this thing up and says, ‘There is greater joy in heaven over this one than over the 99 who did not need to be found.’
We all, like sheep, have gone astray. But what about the “obstreperous old rams”? What about the monsters that seem to have gone so much farther astray than others?
Many would say that Tsarnaev and Castro and Alexis are worse than Assad. It’s easy for us to despise these monsters. It’s easy to be repulsed by, hateful toward, unforgiving of these people, and others like them. But God does not hate them. He weeps for them. He wants them to come back to the flock — which doesn’t mean avoid punishment.
There is a Good Shepherd, and he doesn’t stop looking for his sheep, even the ones that are ugly and have horns, even the ones that look like monsters. He will walk around the world to find them.
Oh, that we had such grace.
We might be incapable of walking around the world in search of sheep, but none of us are incapable of taking a step in their direction, first and foremost by seeing them for what they are: lost sheep, not monsters.