The villain always thinks he's the hero in his story. I've been arguing and fighting with people, trying to justify why we're working together.
I've told people that our plans are sound, that our goals are just... Trying to convince them that we knew what we were doing...
...all that time I think I was just trying to convince myself I hadn't turned... Hadn't lost sight of who I was--
--Hadn't become the bad guy in my own story.
Well, news-flash... We were... We are.
- Invincible #100
by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley
Have you ever considered the notion that you are the villain in your own story? That sounds like a weird question, right? But think about it. We perceive our own lives pretty subjectively. We travel through this world trying to, essentially, survive. To this end, we behave accordingly. Sure, we may try to do so while still behaving in a way that makes us feel like a good person. But really, our behavior, our survival, and our lives are inherently self-serving.
And in that selfish interest of survival we inevitably see ourselves as the hero of our own story. Outside factors in the world fight against us, but we heroically persevere. It is just the nature of our lives and how we perceive our place in the world. My life is a story and I am the hero.
But what if I'm not? What if I'm the villain? We don't usually think that way. I don't usually think that way. I've certainly wronged people. My immediate, gut reaction response to that is that others have certainly wronged me. I've done bad, sure, but others have done worse. I make my own faults subjective and, in the light of the faults of others, I'm still a pretty good person.
I do the same thing with God, faith, and Christianity in general. I think we all do. I judge those sinners around me. "How could they do that?" Yet my own sins are somehow not as bad or are understandable. Heck, they might even be, in my mind, justifiable. Michael Cheshire acknowledges this, too. "When I see others’ sin, it’s easy for me to assume they are bad people. However, when I sin, I choose to understand it was really the environment around me that helped to cause it."*
My sins and otherwise villainous behavior are perfectly acceptable to me for I know the circumstances under which they arise. I'm not a cartoon villain that sets out to do evil things simply for the sake of being evil. I don't mean to hurt others, I just mean to be selfish. Somewhere I have said before that I, and presumably others, sin mainly because it is fun. Sure, it ultimately leads to destruction, but in the moment it is appealing and serves my temporary interests.
Now this may sound like I am trying to justify sin and untoward behavior. I'm not, but I am trying to understand it, particularity my own such behavior. Maybe I'm trying to humanize sin. I am human, after all. The devil didn't make me do it. I did it. And being a Christian doesn't mean you never sin anymore. Sometimes it means you sin even more. Christianity is hard, especially when it often thrusts upon us idealized standards and harsh judgement when we eventually fail to meet them.
Perhaps my favorite line for Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel is this: "Often I have been asked, 'Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?'"** Initially, it sounds like an obvious question. Alcoholics are supposed to be saved through Christianity. It's not supposed to work the other way around. But to any Christian that is halfway honest with their own failings, iniquity, and self-serving interests, the scenario is perfectly understandable. After going through seminary, I'm surprised more religious leaders aren't full blown addicts of some sort.
Maybe they are.
This line also hits close to home for me because it is very similar to a question I was asked. In my own period of deep and dark despair, I did the responsible thing and sought help from a spiritual leader. I explained my situation and detailed my depression. The pastor responded, "I don't understand. How can you be depressed if Jesus is the Lord of your life?"
Now, I perfectly understand the idealism of that sentiment. But I live in the real world, and crap happens. Being a Christian doesn't make life easier. Sometimes it makes it harder, especially when we honestly wrestle with our own issues. How can you become depressed, how can you become an alcoholic, after you got saved? Pretty easily, I dare say. Especially when there's such a sharp disconnect between our outward idealism and our inward struggles, and never the twain shall meet.
Now, this isn't a pity party. I don't intend to go "Woe is me, for I am so terrible and such a sinner." I am merely acknowledging that I am a human, and this is what humans do. But too often we ignore that fact and I think it's to our own detriment. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify my own behavior. Maybe I'm trying to acknowledge that, yes, I am the villain, but it's understandable.
Let me ask you, dear reader, a question. If you're a Christian, have you ever been depressed or unhappy with life even after you got saved? Does everyone have a hand raised in front of their computer now?
So what is the point of all this? What am I even trying to say here? I'm not really sure. I just read Invincible and it struck me and I thought about Brennan Manning and I began to ramble. I think maybe we would understand the failings of others if we acknowledged, especially to ourselves, our own failings. And maybe then we can actually begin to help each other, instead of merely condemning and ostracizing each other.
Maybe we're all sinners. Maybe we're all bad guys. Maybe we're all human.
*Michael Cheshire, Why We Eat Our Own. Kindle location 684.
**Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel. Kindle location 290.