Who can live without conflict in his soul? Only the saint, the righteous man made perfect, and the purely evil. All have sinned, even if we know better. Some have been washed and redeemed. But everyone who is honest admits he still does things he knows are wrong, though he agrees with the law. Heaven contains “the souls of righteous men made perfect.” Such souls must think only what is right and good. There is no conflict in them. On the other end of the scale, though, would be the demonically evil. No conflict in them either.
Cormac McCarthy got me thinking this with his book No Country for Old Men. There’s a movie too. A young westerner out hunting finds the remains of a drug deal turned massacre. The money left behind looks like a rainbow pot of gold to him, and he takes it. It isn’t long before he realizes he’s being tracked down. Running to Mexico won’t save him.
The assassin who’s tracking him, “Sugar,” is pure, consistent and unconflicted. The imaginings of his heart are only evil continually. (See Genesis 6.) He intends to kill the “thief,” and if that means murdering his relatives one by one, it’s no problem to him. His incidental victims say to him, “You don’t have to do this.” Oh, but he does, he tells them. He has decided to kill them, and he will not change his mind. Consistent.
The sheriff means to do his duty against this evil agent, but he struggles and doubts and laments. He knows the dike is broken; the dark sea is rolling over the country he once felt at home in and changing it. He traces the breech back to the loss of manners in the young: no more “sir” and “ma’am,” no more respect. Manners and murder? Yes. The law of God is all one piece. Break one little requirement, and you have broken the whole thing.
By God’s “common grace,” societies carve out a Netherlands in a sea of evil. Their dikes are made of law, customs, standards. They require constant maintenance. Yet some take them for granted. This level of peace and safety is the norm, isn’t it? And some hate the wall. They want to be “free.” They work to tear it down.
In the story, Sugar enters an office and shoots a man in front of a terrified bystander. The second man asks, “Are you going to kill me too?” Sugar says, “That depends. Did you see anything?” The man answers, “No, no, I didn’t see anything.” Sugar leaves him alone. As the sheriff investigates, he is sure people have seen the killer, but none will say so. They are too afraid of this concentrated evil.
A little crack in a big wall can cause the whole structure to fail. I think it’s our job to spot the wrong wherever it turns up and to seal the cracks right away, in our culture, in our families, in our souls. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
The sheriff knew that. He needed someone to stand with him.