In a few weeks I will start reading through the student evaluations of the faculty members I supervise. My favorite part of this task is scanning the written comments for the kinds of nuggets that only students can produce. Perhaps my all-time favorite came to my attention several years ago. It was for a course taught by one of the most popular male professors on campus, a married man who was both fit and funny.
The handwriting was obviously feminine and the stark complaint both floored me and made me laugh out loud: “Each day in class I stare at Dr. “Y”s wedding band and I wish his wife were dead.”
I’m sure that the student didn’t mean it as a death threat but rather as a compliment on the professor’s handsome face and quick wit, but it was more than a little frightening.
Sometime later I thought about that observation as I read Matthew 5:21-30, particularly the connection between murder and adultery as companion sins of the heart. I was struck by just how often our sins would be enabled if we could just get someone out of our ways.
This is the basic urge that would enable the lust after the hot neighbor’s spouse, the ambition that seeks after the job that is held by another, or the appetite for that real estate or vehicle that outshines our otherwise perfectly fine possessions. No wonder the first post-Edenic sin we read about was that of Cain, which distilled how many other sinful thoughts (jealousy, pride, anger, etc.) into one single vulgar act of murder. Perhaps all of our sins are merely incremental slouches toward murder.
Just how often do we commit murder in our hearts?
I once heard a fundraiser for a large charity say that his favorite part of the day was reading the obituaries to see if any of the planned giving had come to a harvest. I’ve heard men say that they have thought about whom they would marry if their spouses were to die an untimely death. I’ve heard adult children bewail their long-lived parents’ estates because “they aren’t using the money and I really need it.” Indeed, even the pride of atheism leads one to commit theodicide, as least in one’s heart.
This world is seductive. It causes us to take baby steps toward oblivion, exchanging transcendence for the temporal at every turn, leaving logic and reason behind (as Madonna of all people once sang as if to illustrate the point ) in pursuit of “everything that belongs to the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” (2 John 2:15-17).