Written by Kirk Durston. A version of this article originally appeared on The Life.
I often stand in the dark, looking out of my bedroom window at night. With a tree obscuring the single lamp on a farm across the valley, I can look out over a peaceful night landscape unmarred by human lights and imagine that I am seeing a wild and beautiful world, untainted by humanity. It is deeply therapeutic to my soul.
The longer I live, the more memories that haunt me, and the more I feel like I do not belong in this world. When it comes time to die, I will leave without regret, passing into a world that has never known evil and never will. The past several weeks since the killing of George Floyd have been especially bad, with many sleepless nights thinking of the sorrow, evil, and violence that soaks so much of human history. Many of my own bad memories have flooded back. Last night was another of those nights.
Racism is a symptom; the actual problem is deeper, bigger, and more pervasive.
Most of what I have observed unleashed over the past few weeks is not a solution. Rather than building bridges, the violence, the shaming, the bullying have destroyed more than has been built. I would like to suggest a positive solution—it will cost you everything but the reward will be priceless.
I listened to a protestor last week state, “This is a human problem and there is a human solution.” He looked to be in his early twenties with most of the harshness of life yet before him and I thought sadly to myself, “Good luck with that”. In the earlier part of my life I worked in several developing countries in different parts of the world. I saw corruption, racism, and incidents of violence in every culture—some of the more horrific haunt me to this day and I find it difficult to talk about them without being overcome with emotion.
I had the unusual experience (for a white Canadian) of being in a situation for a period of four years during which I and many others experienced numerous physical assaults because of our skin colour. There was nothing I or the others could do about it except try to keep a low profile and take great care to avoid doing or saying anything that might be in any way even remotely offensive. Usually, it was a contemptuous kick or a blow with a fist; but once it was quite a bit worse.
The mental scar of being beaten because of the colour of my skin by a group of strangers who did not even know me still lingers to this day. My own experience, however, was only for a portion of my life—almost nothing in comparison to what people all over the world experience over and over again their entire lives.
The mental scar of being beaten because of the colour of my skin by a group of strangers who did not even know me still lingers to this day.
I visited Tiananmen square a few days before the massacre in 1989. The protestors seemed to be mostly university students and I felt an excitement and affinity with them. I was in North Korea the following week, cut off from international news, so I did not find out what happened until I arrived back in Beijing several days after the massacre. Alone in an empty hotel, I experienced a weeping rage that lasted not hours, but days, at the massive injustice committed with impunity by the Communist Party. Five years later the world saw the news reports in 1994 of the genocide in Rwanda of more than 500,000 Tutsi people killed by the Hutu majority in a mere three-month period, many by macheté. As well, 250,000 to 500,000 Tutsi women were raped. (1)
In my own country, Canada, Indigenous Peoples have experienced mistreatment and discrimination for almost four centuries. Most suffer regular racist hostility and contempt all their lives. It is Canada’s massive, national shame. A couple of weeks ago, an Iranian friend posted that within the past ten months, the Iranian regime killed 1,500 innocent people on the street who were protesting against their draconian government. As we speak, hundreds of thousands of Uyghur people are being held by the Chinese Communist Party in concentration camps in the name of “counter-terrorism.” (2) Strangely, most of those who quote “silence is violence” have said little or nothing about any of these other atrocities. Human, anti-racist responses are often well-intentioned, but even they can be tainted by their own form of racism and hypocrisy.
Human, anti-racist responses are often well-intentioned, but even they can be tainted by their own form of racism and hypocrisy.
There reaches a point where a person has experienced so much trauma that they lose faith in humanity and just want to withdraw from it all. For me, that point was reached about twenty years ago. My world had grown very dark. I knew this was not good, so I began to ask God for a beautiful mind. It is why I often stand at my bedroom window at night and imagine that I am looking out into a quiet, beautiful night in another world undefiled and unmarred by humanity.
Racism is a symptom of a more general evil: the failure to treat all people with the same dignity, value, care, and significance with which we ourselves want to be treated—a failure to love our neighbour as oneself, as it were. This fundamental failure results in groups mistreating and even killing people of other groups on the basis of ethnic differences, skin colour, religious differences, and political differences; the dangerous ideological polarization in the USA is a current example of this more basic evil. The failure to love our neighbour as oneself is global, spans all of history, and is universal to all people. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote,
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” (3)
For many years, I have longed to withdraw to a remote wilderness cabin far from civilization, but I have a strong spiritual and moral obligation to serve God and humanity to the best of my limited abilities during my short life by pointing people to a life-changing solution for the evil that “cuts through the heart” of every person, a solution that promises unimaginable reward. So what is it?
If the failure to esteem every person as a fellow being created in the image and likeness of God could be solved by taking a knee for nine minutes, or posting a meme on social media, or publicizing a statement of condemnation against racism, wouldn’t that be grand? These responses, though well-intentioned and born of grief and frustration, actually trivialize the seriousness and scope of this fundamental human failing.
Because evil cuts through every human heart, all human attempts will be tainted and fall short of a real, lasting answer to our problem … but there is a divine solution.
In late December 1983, I listened to a speaker state, “There is no limit to how low a person will stoop given the right circumstances.” At the time, I considered that to be an exaggeration, but over the years that followed, through my experience in different cultures, I eventually concluded that if I had been in the shoes of other people, then I would very likely have committed the same evils. That was an extremely humbling realization.
There is no limit to how low a person will stoop given the right circumstances.
The first step toward a solution is to realize that every one of us is guilty of failing to love our fellow human being as ourselves. Think of the person you most despise right now. For me, it is usually a political figure who has caused great, long-term harm. Jesus said it is easy to love those who love you, but the real test is whether we love our enemies. Until we can think of the person we most despise and experience genuine compassion and grief for them and their failings, the root of racism and hate will remain within us. It requires the realization that I cannot, myself, fix the evil within me, which takes two major forms—doing things that are wrong and failing to do things that are right.
Until we can think of the person we most despise and experience genuine compassion and grief for them and their failings, the root of racism and hate will remain within us.
Not only did I lose faith in humanity, but an honest assessment of myself, which grew more realistic with the years, resulted in a complete loss of faith in my own ability to deal with the evil that cuts through my own heart. Sure, if I compare myself with certain other people, I am a half-decent man, but one cannot lose faith in humanity without realizing that one is part of the problem. And that is a major step forward.
Our governments can draft yet more laws against the obvious forms of racism, but a friend of mine, who is a former police officer, told me that by the time he retired, there were three times as many laws to enforce than there were when he was a rookie officer thirty years earlier. He found it depressing to observe that there was no sign whatsoever that society was improving despite having tripled the laws. The problem is that laws can change how humans behave in public, but they do nothing to solve the unseen discrimination, evil, and hate within the human heart and mind. Unless the hidden, internal problem is dealt with, there will always be an external manifestation in one form or another. History is abundantly clear on that.
Racism will never, ever be defeated by outward actions alone if the internal foundation is dead.
There are a myriad of practical things we can and ought to do if we wish to treat all others as we ourselves want to be treated. To be crystal clear—we have a moral obligation to come to the aid of anyone who is being oppressed. Loving our neighbour necessarily entails action––right now. But unless there is an internal change and we actually love our neighbour from the heart, all these other things become an empty façade inexorably corrupted by the evil within. Racism will never, ever be defeated by outward actions alone if the internal foundation is dead.
So the first, major step is to set aside human pride and its delusional notion that we can come up with a human solution to the evil that “cuts through the heart of every human being.”
The next two steps will cost you everything, but the rewards are beyond human imagination.
Most people in our culture vastly underestimate who and what God is.
The second step is to come to a point where faith in oneself and humanity is replaced with faith in God. I am talking about placing one’s trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness for the evil that cuts through one’s own heart and for a spiritual rebirth into a personal relationship with God. Why is a relationship with God a good thing? Most people in our culture vastly underestimate who and what God is. He is described as the one from whom comes “every good thing given and every perfect gift.” (4) That means that he is the origin of honour, beauty, purity, friendship, love, justice, music, art, and every other good thing given. What could possibly be more wonderful than beginning an eternal relationship with a being like that?
The third step is to place oneself in the hands of God, daily, with no terms, no conditions, nothing held back, “all in”, asking him to do anything to you, in you, and through you that he desires. This is really a test of faith, but it is where true, lasting change begins (and I emphasize “begins”). If he truly loves me enough to take the consequences of my own evil and death upon himself, and if he is actually the origin of every good thing given, then I can trust him totally.
This third step requires an ongoing, daily, total surrender of my whole being. Jesus said that if we wish to follow him, we must deny ourselves—but, oh, what a wonderful surrender it is! It is a road you can walk for the remainder of your life, where you will find healing and the beginnings of a beautiful mind. You will not instantly start thinking of, and treating, all other people as you would wish to be treated—that is a life-long process. Rather it is a road that climbs ever higher and further toward an eternity untainted by even the thought or memory of evil.
This third step requires an ongoing, daily, total surrender of my whole being.
I am now aware that I have fallen infinitely short of God’s glory, honour, beauty, and perfection; and that I cannot fix myself. I have so little time left before I die and still so much that needs to be done that I am moved each morning, and each night before I fall asleep, to pray a prayer similar to what I have written below. If you are growing weary of failed human efforts to fix the evil within, and you find you have a deep desire to walk this road that goes ever higher up and further in toward a beauty that cannot be described by human words or song, and has “not even entered the heart of man,” (5) then you can express this to God:
My father in heaven, here I am. I place myself in your hands this day. Do to me whatever you wish; change me however you desire … no terms, no conditions, nothing held back. If there is an area in my life that I am withholding from you, I want you to invade it right now. Make me the kind of person you created me to be. I surrender every aspect of my being into your loving hands and thank you for your rescue and salvation from my own evil. I pray this in the name of my king, my saviour, and my redeemer, Jesus Christ Emmanuel. Amen.
Note: If you would like to talk, confidentially, with an online mentor about this, you may do so by following this link: Talk to a mentor