I could never do such a terrible thing as that

No, not I.

Whether in history or in current events, we often read of horrible crimes, committed by horrible people.  If it so happens, as too rarely it does, that the miscreant is caught, then we call for his punishment.  Let him pay for the crimes he has committed.  Who could feel sorry for such an evildoer?  Why does he even get a defender?  The victim has suffered; let the one who inflicted such pain feel it himself.  If he begs for mercy, then show him the same mercy he had for the one he tormented.

There, it is done, and now we can all get back to our normal lives, knowing that if we cannot further help the victim, at least we have imposed justice on the criminal.  He deserves no compassion, not after what he did.  And if someone says we judge him too harshly, let us respond by saying that if I were ever to perform so foul a deed, then judge me as well, for never would I do such a thing.

Consider the Holocaust, the genocide of millions of innocent people, under the most cruel and inhumane conditions.  There were many thousands who were not directly involved but stood by and did nothing.  Are they not also guilty?

A very few courageous and moral people did the right thing.  They risked their lives, and even the lives of their families, including their children, to hide Jews from the Nazis.  Sometimes they were caught.  The Nazis had no mercy, killing not only the Jews but also those who hid them, killing even their small children in their sight.

It makes one's blood boil.  How could anyone be so cruel?  

But they were, and I am so grateful that neither you nor I could ever do such a thing.  

Why did they?

They also were people — educated, church-going, Bible-reading, honest in their dealings.  Why, then, did they wantonly kill, whether directly or indirectly, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, and others?  This proves that they were not like us.  We would never do such things!  

Dr. Jordan Peterson (University of Toronto) was speaking as a psychologist and educator when he said that, yes, we would have.  Had we been Germans in the 1940s, we would have been raised in the same culture as they were, been exposed to the same propaganda, faced the same coercion.  To be sure, we would have felt guilty, as many Germans did — reluctant, hesitant.  In time, however, we would have gradually weakened, and we would have given in to at least some degree — enough of a degree to convict us, if not in a court of law, at least in the highest court in the universe, where God Almighty judges us.  

King David, in the Old Testament, was outraged by the report of a crime involving a rich man, who had stolen and butchered the beloved pet lamb of a poor family for a feast.  When the king heard of the lamb, he demanded that the culprit be brought to him to be punished.  But King David had earlier caused the death of one of his loyal warriors, in order to steal from him his beautiful wife.  The prophet Nathan then pointed to David, saying, you are the culprit (2 Sam. 12:7).

It was only then that King David's eyes were opened to his own sin, to the dark recesses of his sinful soul, and he wept in repentance.  

It is not that we should neglect to judge and punish those convicted of crimes according to the law.  It is our duty to do so.  Nor may we trust those who have proven, by their actions, that they are not worthy of trust.  

But when we hold ourselves up as being inherently better than those we despise, including slave-holders of a previous century, it is then that we commit the moral error.  As Spurgeon once said, we must not resent it when we discover that others hold a low opinion of us, for we are even worse than they think we are.

Image via Max Pixel.

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