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. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The trouble with making a division between "good people" and "bad people," as Solzhenitsyn says, is that a focus on “them” out there distracts from the true battleground within. And the Enemy is more than happy to tunnel in behind to find those vulnerable, weak and secret hollow spots inside each of our souls.
I’ve seen and heard of more of this than I’d like—wonderful, well-meaning people with a war mentality, who are so set on defending against the visible "enemy" that they fail to notice the rot within until it eats away so much that even the facade begins to crumble. The tragedy is only compounded if there was help freely available, but rejected because it came from “them”—the world, the other side, the enemy, whoever—and so, in the end, we fall. Because we believed ourselves already sanctified, instead of in need of salvation along with the rest of the world.
Life in Christ is a life of a thousand, million little deaths: deaths to old ways of thinking, death to false security, death to complacency, death to trivial comforts. Any time you inquire about your Faith, you are whispering to Christ, however reluctantly, that you are open to killing off some part of yourself that does not deserve to live.
All of that is a way of saying that the hardest evil to destroy is the evil within our own hearts, the sins we hold so close that it is an act of courage to even imagine life without them. To destroy these would truly mean dying with Christ, and as much as we Christians like the idea of “putting on the new man” and “rising with Christ,” that dying bit is a bit hard to swallow.
And it does feel like dying, to ruthlessly root out the selfishness, pride, wilful blindness, anger, spite, jealousy, covetousness, and indolence rooted in your own heart. It feels like killing the most inward impulses, the things we do and say on autopilot, the motivations that we act on without even fully understanding them, clothing them afterwards in loftier language and assigning them a higher purpose because we don't fully understand even ourselves.
It will feel like throwing your own heart on the fire, when you do it, when you destroy that bit of your heart, when you embrace the small martyrdom of opening a part of your life to God's will and excising what is contrary to life with Him.
It will seem like the world must be forever artificial, colourless, dull, unfair. And then, like turning off a flickering fluorescent light and opening a window shade, all of creation will come crowding in, carrying Christ like a crowdsurfing Messiah, to set the husk of your heart to rights and fill it with living, green, sprouting vitality.
Image: Saint Peter Repentant by Francisco José de Goya (1746 - 1828), Public Domain