Dexter and the Problem of Evil

dexterIn the TV show Dexter, the main character is a unique man, by day he works for the police as a blood spatter analyst and by night he is a serial killer.

You can’t help but like Dexter. He is quirky and odd, but strangely loveable too. It sounds odd saying that – can a serial killer like this be loveable?

Dexter isn’t like other serial killers, he only kills those who are criminals of the most terrible crimes and who have slipped through the net of the justice system. He takes justice upon himself and channels his killer tendencies towards a good purpose.

Now I have only seen a couple of episode of the first season, so I don’t know the unfolding story completely or where Dexter will end up on this journey. But those first few episodes opened up for me a whole host of questions. Questions, I hope, people are asking when they watch this show. Questions like:

1. What is good and evil?
2. How do we decide who is good and evil?
3. Is Dexter doing the right thing? Is he any different to the people he is killing?
4. What is justice?

When you watch this show, you can’t help but feel that Dexter is doing the right thing. He is ridding the world of murderers, rapists and pedophiles etc and that surely is a good thing?

But is it right that one man should carry out this justice? What about accountability?

What happens if he goes too far?

What happens if those lines of who is good and evil become blurred? As we look into the depths of our hearts, none of us are perfect. Jesus says that even when we are angry with our brother or sister then we are liable for judgement as if we had committed murder. (Matthew 5:21-22)…

THLSTSPPR-SPTI-EPS-1This is shown more clearly in the film The Last Supper directed by Stacy Title, the scene is set around a dinner table where a group of friends enjoy company, food and good wine. This group of university graduates begin to invite controversial people round for dinner, knowing that their ideas and thoughts are quite radical and perhaps very wrong.

Over the course of the film the wine begins to taste strange and the company doesn’t seem fun anymore.

They pose the question: If you went back in time and met Hitler when he was an artist, before he did all those terrible things – would you kill him?

On this basis, these students took the liberty to kill off those guests who have radical and harmful ideas in order to save man kind. They felt like they were killing off the next generation of Hitlers.

But then it gets out of hand. Suddenly they were killing people that they simply disagreed with. From religious ideas to political ones, they were finding they were burying people in the backyard before they even got to the dinner table!

Soon their conscience played against them and they couldn’t shake off the feeling that perhaps, what they were doing, was wrong…

Dexter-Morgan

Like Dexter, it raises a load of questions about what Justice truly is and what evil is? What is right and wrong? Is it just the act that is wrong which Dexter deals with, or is it the thoughts that are wrong which the University students deal with?

 

Jesus has an answer and he says that the problem is even deeper than actions and thoughts:

 

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
(Mark 7:20-23 ESV)

 

The problem is our hearts. This list from Jesus doesn’t excuse anyone. Everyone has a human heart like this.

Suddenly I sit at that table and I know I am not pure and cannot judge other people – for my heart is evil. And I think that’s what these students suddenly come to realise in the film, they saw that they themselves have an evil heart with wrong thoughts – they were no better than those they were killing. And in the end they turn upon each other.

But there is hope. The Gospel offers hope. On the one hand Jesus says the problem is our hearts, but on the other hand he offers us a renewed heart and salvation.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [Ezekiel 36:26]

Jesus is the only one that can deal with evil and deal with it in a way that gets to the root of the problem. It still brings up loads of questions, but as we watch Dexter I perhaps want to ask myself this question; what about the evil in my heart?

Serving without Sinking

Have you ever had that moment where you are just really fed up of serving? At first it was a joy but now it’s just boring and repetitive. It feels like you are the only one who is serving while everyone else has gone home. And no one praises you or encourages you. Day in and day out it you slog away and you’re tired. You’re tired of it all.

Does that sound familiar? If it does, can I recommend a book to you? I know, another book to read – but it has been one of the most helpful books I’ve read on serving.

servingwithoutsinkingServing without Sinking – by John Hindley is a book that is Christ focused. In fact you spend over half the book looking at Jesus and how He serves you. This really makes you examine your heart and the motives of your heart towards serving. You could be like the person I described above where you are just fed up of serving and you feel very discouraged and tired of it all. Then this book will remind you how Christ serves you first and how he delights in you. It will melt your heart to see the love that Christ has for you. With this in mind it changes the way you think about serving from a “I should do” or a “I have to” turned to a “I want to” and “I delight to” Why? because every bit of service – making tea, printing music, washing tables, welcome team is all serving Jesus and we can do that because he first and foremost serves us.

Or perhaps you are someone who isn’t like the person above – maybe you only serve to get recognition or you just can’t be bothered to serve others. John Hindley reminds us what kind of master we have – He is good and kind and he calls us to serve him. Again he calls us to this only after he has first served us. He is a serving master who loves his servants, servants who are sons and daughters of his Father. He calls us to serve with a glad heart – looking to Christ and not for recognition from others. We can do this because we have the Lord who knows us and a Father who sees what we do in secret.

I found this book to be good news for my heart. It’s a short book but with a deep focus on Jesus. I feel like it is something we all need at the moment.

You can get the book at the Good Book Company.

Ali Bolton has read and reviewed the book here.

Stewarding, Strife and Smiles

stewardingSpending a week stewarding was a rather interesting experience. Armed with hi-vis jackets, smiles and hand waving gestures to move people into their seats proved to bring out the best and worst in people.

It was an interesting exercise in watching how people react when you tell them what to do or where to sit.

You think that being at a Christian conference everything should be sweet and fluffy like marshmallows with cinnamon sprinkled on top. But our hearts are deceptive. And the sinful nature wages war in our souls.

When our comfort and desires are threatened by a first world problem of sitting in a seat that wasn’t our first choice it can cause great sparks and grumbling. Annoyance flares up and as a steward trying to help people get to their seats it was somewhat disheartening to see people angry at you because they are not sitting in the seat of their choosing. (However there were some with good reasons to want to sit somewhere else: bad neck, back etc)

But I am no innocent party here. My heart began dripping with frustration as people ignored and muttered as they filed into their seats. It was hard not to get angry and not to shout.

I noticed how I wanted control and was annoyed when people didn’t listen. As I reflect on this now i’ve observed that our hearts love comfort and control.

We like to be comfortably in control and in control of our comfort.

Anything that threatens this brings out a nasty side of us. It’s heart issue, deep down we want our own way, we want our comfort and we will do our utmost to preserve these two things because we love ourselves.

There were other people who were a delight. Smiles and nods. Going where they were asked without a problem. They were easier to love. They were a joy to serve.

Again my heart deceives me. It’s easy to love the lovable. It’s easy to serve the joyful ones. It was harder to love the grumblers and mumbles. It was harder to smile at the frowns and frustrations. Isn’t that true of life? We place people on a scale of how worthy they are to be served and loved? If they are low on that scale then we scorn and our serving is sour at best and extinct at worst. But if they are charming and pleasant then we will bend over backwards because they are deserving.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies. But these people aren’t my enemies. They are brothers and sisters and yet I have placed them on a scale of how deserving they are of my love and service. The heart is a crooked device!

It is odd that such a first world problem of where people sit could bring about these reflections. Because in reality who cares where you sit? In the grand scheme of life and eternity it doesn’t matter whether someone got the seat they wanted or whether they sat in the seat I told them to. It is just curious that our and most certainly my heart should react in these strange ways.

I am so glad that Jesus has a pure heart and loved the despised and unlovely. He loved his enemies and all those undeserving. He did not hold on to his comfort but gladly gave it up.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV)

Out of the Heart and Onto the Blog

affectionsBlogging is rather an interesting platform. Anyone can start a blog and put up their ideas and it’s very appealing not having to go through publishers and editors to put up your own thoughts and ideas. It is also very revealing, on blogs and also twitter little storms can be created which will either build up a person or destroy a person. They are powerful mediums and they need to be treated with care.

I have been thinking a lot about what Jesus says in Luke 6:45:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Out of the abundance of the heart the person blogs or tweets. It made me think about the topics I blog and the state of my heart. I’m not naturally a good person, but Christ has changed my heart, he has filled me with his spirit and so out of my mouth should speak a different heart. It made me think about how I use this blog and what I write about. Am I encouraging? Am I proclaiming Christ? Am I loving? Am I thankful? Or do I prefer to rant and complain? Do I prefer to crush someone?

If my words on a blog post or on twitter are discouraging, grumbling, complaining, unforgiving, going out their way to belittle someone or making sure I crush someone under the weight of my words and expectations then it is quite evident what my heart is like because Jesus says in Matthew 15:18:

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”

 

If I am like this and its evident that my words are saying something about my heart that is not good nor Christ like, then I need to come back to Christ. Perhaps the temptation is to masquerade what I think on the blog, but people know me in real life and can judge whether my words are true or not. Instead I need to come back to Christ. Come to sweet Jesus and be reminded of who I am in Christ – a new creation with a new heart and adopted into His family. Totally forgiven.

When it comes to what we say on the internet we have to be careful. We have to be accountable to people, to be slow to speak and quick to listen. We need to test our hearts and the words from our mouths. What we say can really hurt and affect people more than we realise and often it comes from a bitterness rooted in our own hearts that causes this.

Come to Christ again. Repent. Forgive. Think about what your writing about – will it lift a person up? Will it encourage them? Does it edify?

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)

The Cynical Heart

Being cynical is a very British thing to do. Its defined as:

1. Believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity and

2. Doubtful as to whether something will happen or is worthwhile

With the banks, politicians and phone-hacking you can see why cynicism sprouts up. Who can we trust? Why bother with something, when it will only fall a part. You hear that when elections come round – no matter who you choose it doesn’t matter, they are all corrupt. I have been thinking about this quite a lot and I found it more noticeable when I came back from Peru. You see in Peru they put their full heart and effort into something, it could be the smallest thing yet they go all out and expect it to all turn out fantastic. When I stepped on English soil, I realised that we were very different – we expect failure and we don’t trust anyone. I noticed this inside me too, I can be very cynical, not really expecting things to work out and if on the off-chance they don’t. Well then I told you so…

Often this cynical heart comes from disappointment, perhaps people not meeting expectations or seeing things like this fail so not expecting it to work. Its funny but when you recognise it in yourself, you find it like a bitter taste in your mouth and you soon notice how it begins to destroy the people around you. Then you begin to listen and you hear others being cynical and soon things begin to unravel and slowly a small bit of yeast starts affecting the whole loaf.

It’s not just the world out there that is cynical, but its Christians as well. I think there is one area we are most cynical about and that’s the Church. Just give me Jesus and forget the church, I don’t need it. Our cynical, grumbling heart begins to talk about the church like this… “this won’t work, we have tried this before and it wont work”… “why are they changing this again? It’s just to suit their needs, but what about me?”…”Why don’t the leaders do it like this or like that – it would be much better, *sigh* they aren’t doing it right!”. These conversations mean I draw a line between me and the church and I stand on one side and the church stands on the other and I point my finger at them. *THEY* are like this and are doing it wrong. I am not. The reality is though, there is no line – I am in the church, I am part of the problem and the solution!

Yet when I read in the OT how the Lord dealt with those that grumbled in the wilderness, you would think it would hold our tongues and convict our hearts. But truth is, my heart is like those Israelites in the wilderness, grumbling, not believing this will work out, thinking there is a better plan – it’s all their fault, those leaders – they are to blame! I often think the Lord may open the ground to swallow me up!!

I have seen that the danger of a cynical heart is that it destroys the church and it destroys us. In a world where we distrust our leaders means we tend to grumble about them instead of encouraging them. The cynical christian grumbles about their elders and doesn’t encourage them. The cynical christian doesn’t believe that God will work in this situation and so develops a cold hard heart. The cynical christian doesn’t think that a new way of doing things will work because it’s apparently been tried before and so causes half-heartedness to give it a go. And this spreads, little by little it produces cracks and you start getting a group of people who don’t trust their leaders, don’t believe new things will work and so stays comfortable where they are and don’t believe God will work and so miracles (people saved, healed, prayers answered etc) may become less and less. Our hearts become dull and cold.

In those times my hope is that someone can point this out to me and point me to Christ. Because I need to be reminded of who He is and how much he loves his Bride – the church. My hope is that I can remind others that our christian walk should be like that of a child, expectant, full of trust and delighting in their Father. Everyday I need reminding of these things.  Also I don’t want a cold cynical heart because it’s not going to win anyone to Christ or to His bride and I want people to know Him and I want people to meet his bride and enjoy fellowship with her.

He sings over you

I have recently been watching the X Factor and it’s currently the auditions, which is my favourite part of the program! Some acts can really make you cringe and curl up into a ball and wonder why their friends and family didn’t tell them that they were not right for this audition. You also get the amazing acts, the ones that look the part and can act in the right way, they shine out with their hair style and rustic voice and they have winner stamped on their forehead.

But then you get the ones that come on stage and they don’t look the part, their hair is wrong, their body shape isn’t right and their clothes are not up to date or fit in with the style of our culture. They come onto stage quite shy and out-of-place. The judges look at them and glaze over, they sigh and already resign to the idea that this person is going to be terrible. The audience sniggers, points and smirks. They whisper: “Who do they think they are coming on stage like that? They don’t belong here.”

Then it happens. The shy, out-of-place guy or girl opens their mouths and the most beautiful sound comes out. It makes the whole theatre go into a deep silence as ears are being washed with the most delicate and heart wrenching song that they will ever hear. Their hearts melt and transforms their opinions of this person. The judges gaze open-mouthed and wondered how they could have been so wrong about this person. And the person singing is swept up in the moment, singing like a bird in flight, and allowing everyone to see the true beauty that was masked. This is one of my favourite moments in the competition. I love it because it makes me think about my own heart and the heart of Christ.

When that person come on stage I judge them. In my heart I wonder why they are there – they don’t look the part, they look messy, weak and out-of-place. It reminds me how often I treat others, how I judge them from first impressions, appearances and what people say about them. My cruel heart deems them unworthy and I wonder why they are in church and I wonder if they are really a christian if they don’t serve as hard as everyone else does or questions the teaching from the preacher when everyone else is silent.

Then some days I am like that weak, shy person on stage. With the spotlights on me and I look a mess and feel helpless and weak and everyone is judging me – they judge what I do, what I say, how I say it, how I serve, how I spend my time etc Just the same way as I judge them really. We all like to think we don’t and we all like to think we get up on stage as spotless perfect people but we don’t.

The reality is that when that person or I get on stage we are all the same – messed up, weak, broken, hurt, sinful and we don’t look the part, no matter how hard we try to dress up and cover our stench with the latest thing. And you know what? Even when we try to sing, try to speak what comes out isn’t what happens on X Factor, we don’t turn heads like those guys do on TV. No its much worse – our voice is flat and trembles. Instead something remarkable happens; as we stand on stage someone else stands with us and he sings for us. He sings over us. Jesus sings the most beautiful song for his wife, covers her shame and guilt, he soothes her wounds and her comforts her hurts. The song he sings is one of the cross – he died for her and rose to life so that she could one day stand on that stage clothed in him and be one with him.

If I am the person on the stage, I can do nothing but cling to Jesus, knowing I can’t do this without him, knowing that I will fail unless he does it for me. And if I am the person judging then it reminds my heart that this person is loved and cherished by Jesus more than I realise and I have no place to think I am better than they are. Not when he has clothed them with his blood soaked garments. And the ironic thing is that I too have been clothed in Christ and yet I forget that as I sit in the shadows passing remarks and thoughts that are damaging to the other person. Christ loves me and if I really thought about it, I would be amazed that Jesus would love such a terrible sinner. And Christ loves you, no matter what you look like, how you feel, your weakness and how messy you are. He loves you.

*Just as an aside, I know that singing and the X factor stage isn’t the greatest or strongest analogy of the cross and being one with Christ. But I hope you understood where I was coming from and got the point I was making.

The heart sings unbidden

“For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others.

I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hands.”

–C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,”

That also happens as we open scripture: our hearts sing as we see Christ. Just as we struggle with a bit of theology we keep looking back at Christ and our hearts sing.