Humanity is an expert at cruelty. We’ve perfected it really. We know how to be cruel in millions of ways. We’re pretty creative with our cruelty. And we keep coming up with new and innovative ways to be cruel.
The target of cruelty is often other humans. But it extends to every other living thing on the planet as well.
In some ways, humanity has always operated under a type of “drive” to be cruel. Maybe that’s not a good way to describe it since I don’t think it’s universal for all humans. Although there have been many humans who are certainly cruel in how they approach the world and their fellow human beings. Some humans seem intent on living by creeds that believe in the ends justify the means, that the strong survive, and that might makes right. For these certain individuals, the cruelty is the point. Cruelty is nothing more than living out their faith. It is the goal. It is the end. And that is their downfall. Such a faith is a heavy burden that consume the one who carries it. It comes at a great cost. And the promised reward is an empty lie that never comes to fruition.
Cruelty will only motivate so far. And cruelty will ultimately consume the one who uses it – just like all evil consumes the one who uses it. Evil always uses and discards and throws aside anyone who uses it once that person is no longer useful. The irony of this is that the person who is being cruel thinks they are using cruelty for their purposes. That they are benefiting. That they are in control. But that’s never the case. Because that’s never how evil works. You don’t ever get to use it and be in control of it. It uses you and controls you and then discards you as worthless. Because evil and all that goes with it always devalues and dehumanizes – always. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the victims or the oppressors. Everyone is devalued and dehumanized. There are no winners with evil. There is no one who comes out on top. Everyone loses. And this is especially true with cruelty. Cruelty brings pain and suffering to the victims directly, and it kills the spirit and soul and the humanity of the person who engages in cruelty against others. It makes the person who uses cruelty less human, just like their intended victims.
There’s always someone else waiting in the wings to take your place with cruelty and evil. Waiting to scoop up the lie and tell themself that they can control the cruelty and use it for themself. But they can’t. They will be discarded too. Thrown away like a ripped and drenched wrapper from a drive through window order.
Remember, the cruelty is the point. And that isn’t just for the intended victims. It’s for the people who use cruelty too.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. We started Lent. What’s great about Lent is there’s no marketing to hype it up. There’s no cultural side to it. No Lent shopping. No Lent music on the radio. No Lent preparation in the stores. No Lent sales extravaganza. No Lent parties to get ready for. No big Lent meals. No sappy and cheesy Lent movies. No big spending sprees for Lent gifts. None of that. We’re just faced with the theological aspects of Lent – or not. There’s no other way to spin it. Either deal with death and mortality and change and forgiveness and confession or completely ignore it. That’s your choice.
Lent is a time of preparation. Of examination. A time of looking at death in the face, if we are willing. On Ash Wednesday we hear the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” You are going to die. That’s what that means. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what position you hold in society.
Ash Wednesday isn’t cruel. It’s honest. Society and our culture twist things and insert cruelty in for the purpose of suffering and pain. All in the pursuit of temporary power and the use of force.
In Lent we hear about Jesus’ final journey towards Jerusalem. It’s where he will head to the crucifixion. It’s where he will look at cruelty in the eye and they will have a stare off. Cruelty will give it its best shot. Cruelty will throw everything it’s got at Jesus in order to say that cruelty is the point of life and that cruelty has the final say. But that’s not the case. Cruelty will blink and lose the contest.
We follow another way. Jesus went right through the worst of cruelty to follow a better way. The strange thing about Jesus’s way is that while it seemed like on the surface that the cruelty was the point and that it won – it didn’t. Oh the irony. Cruelty has this facade of being strong and powerful. It presents itself as mean and tough and strong. But it’s not. It’s laughable at best. It’s pathetic at worst. Those who use cruelty aren’t strong at all. Those that are truly strong never have to use force with others. They invite. Only those that come from a place of weakness have to force others to comply. They are exposing themselves for what they are – empty. Jesus shows how very weak cruelty actually is. It’s empty and dead inside. It ends at death. But Jesus goes to that death and shows that death isn’t the end. It doesn’t get the final say. Which is why the cruelty being the point no longer works because there is a point beyond it. The cruelty is the point only works if you firmly hold that death is the end of the line. Jesus shows that this is ridiculous. An empty tomb is the perfect metaphor to show how empty cruelty is.
Those who use cruelty to get their way are empty inside spiritually, like a tomb. They are just waiting to be put into their tomb by cruelty, when cruelty is done with them. What a sad existence.
So how should we respond to those who use cruelty? With two inter-related things. First, by exposing cruelty fully for what it is. Not holding back anything on it. Be careful here though. We aren’t called to be cruel in response to cruelty. We are not called to become the very thing we are fighting against.
Cruelty depends on lies and covering up the ugliness of what it is. So that means cruelty needs to be fully exposed for all to see what it is. Jesus did that by going all the way to the fullest extent of what cruelty was. This isn’t about compliance and going along with cruelty. Cruelty expects resistance. It’s what gives it an excuse to be even more cruel. Because the cruelty is the point after all. Cruelty isn’t designed to be exposed. It isn’t designed to give it 110%. Cruelty can’t withstand the light of truth shining on it.
In scripture Jesus talks about when someone demands your coat, given them your shirt as well. You’ll end up naked and in doing so, you’ll show the cruelty of what is going on fully. It’s over the top theater. Cruelty can’t survive this. It can only survive when it is has cover, when it is not talked about, when it seen as decent, when it is abstract, when it a policy debate. Expose cruelty for what it is – cruel – and things change. Cruel is about pain and suffering caused to people – actual people. When you show that, then cruelty is exposed. Cruelty can’t stand at that point. It’s naked and ashamed and must find a way to cover itself or make excuses or find scapegoats to blame.
The second response is through love. Always with love. This is important because the point is to replace cruelty and the only way you replace something is to have something else to replace it with. And that means you have to have something in mind already. Act in love. Act in justice. This doesn’t mean mushy, gushy. What does it mean to love? To act in the best interest of your follow human beings. To do unto others as you would have them do unto you. To seek wholeness and completeness in the community. To care about others. Is that really all that complicated? Or difficult? I don’t think it is. I think that’s pretty basic honestly. This isn’t about individual love. This is about love of humanity – communal love. This is related to justice. It’s about right relationship with others in community. It’s about loving a right relationship between people. Selfishness doesn’t work. We need to move past that. Because if we don’t realize that we need each other for our very survival and thriving, then we’re all going to suffer and experience pain – the very definition of cruelty. Selfishness is self-imposed cruelty.
Cruelty will go on because humanity has a long history with it – a long addiction to it. There will be new people who use it – who buy into the lies that it sells. New politicians who attempt to implement cruelty in policies. There will be plenty of voters who hungrily gnaw on the bloody red meat of politicians campaign rhetoric and promises. And different people will engage in it in new methods every day only find their hands and hearts dirtied by it and unable to be cleansed. We will come across cruel people. And those folks will lead to other folks. All with stomaches aching to be filled because cruelty is never satisfying. It leaves one hungry for more. And there is never enough to satisfy.
My words for you are this – expose cruelty for what it is: empty and weak. And do this with love as your foundation. Because love will not use you and throw you aside like trash. Love will build you up so that it will spread to others. Love will free people from the bonds of cruelty of this world and the people who employ cruelty for the facade of power. Love will free people from the emptiness of dead ends and tombs to provide a tomorrow. Love provides a way forward that is life giving and full of meaning. Cruelty cannot stand. It is empty and weak. Expose it. Question it. Go over the top to show it what it is. Don’t allow it to cover itself, or make itself decent. And never accept it.
The cruelty may be the point for some people but it doesn’t get the final say. Something that empty and weak and pointless doesn’t get to determine those things. There’s a different way. A better way. Live love.