So they killed Alan Henning.
If you look at photographs of the British taxi driver, you see what you expect to see when you think of a good-natured cabbie. A broad-chested man with bags of bonhomie and no doubt, one who was voluble from the driver’s seat. Yet, he was clearly a lot more than just a cheerful chappie. He was, or at least has become, a hero. We’re told in the press that when he was kidnapped, he was still laughing and joking with his fellow detainees. Apparently, he joked about the poor quality food and was convinced that he would be released. He went to Syria to help people. He thought it was worth the risk.
He thought he would be released.
Can a statement carry greater pathos? A man who believed in the best of humanity even when he came face to face with the worst. It’s enough to cause some deep introspection on the human condition. Just what is the state of humanity? What’s happened to us? What has gone so very badly wrong?
When I read a story like Alan Henning’s, I respond as so many have. With anger and revulsion at evil running roughshod through the world. But I’m acutely conscious of the way in which his story can produce a misguided reaction. It evokes judgement and rancour and self-righteousness and instead of bringing light, it can shroud the human heart with darkness.
Alan Henning has been called a great humanitarian. I have a problem with that word, ‘humanitarian.’ Humanitarianism isn’t simply the idea that a virtuous person – a humanitarian – helps people in need. It goes a lot further in our society. It carries an implication which infuses certain political movements. It proposes an idea about humanity which is false.
On Dictionary.com, the definition of humanitarianism includes this section:
- the doctrine that humanity’s obligations are concerned wholly with the welfare of the human race.
- the doctrine that humankind may become perfect without divine aid.
We can debate number one, but number two is simply wrong. And it’s based on the idea that humans are fundamentally good, though damaged. Incorrect. Fundamentally incorrect. We are NOT fundamentally good and we will never become perfect without divine aid. Second, you will sometimes hear this idea expressed: ‘Certain groups in the Middle East – like ISIS or Al-Quaeda – have lost their humanity.’ As though ‘humanity’ is a term to refer to virtue.
ISIS and Al-Quaeda reveal exactly what we are like as human beings.
We are fallen. We are sinners. And some of us are murderers.
It’s not a mistake that the first sin after the Fall was murder. It’s as though the writer of Genesis is saying, ‘this is what humans will do once they’re separated from God. Their natures are corrupted and they will slaughter each other. This now is what it means to be human. This is what you’re capable of, and much more. Just wait for the book of Judges.’
That we are sinners is a truism barely worth mentioning, perhaps, it seems so astonishingly self-evident. Yet I’m afraid the consequences of the Fall are much worse. I apologize that this post is depressing but these things must be addressed. I write cathartically, perhaps.
Let me refer, then, to the Tainted Will.
It is not just that as sinners, we are fallen beings. I lament not simply my sinful acts, I lament my entire condition. I possess a tainted will and that means I’m wretched. I feel like I live and breathe Romans 7.
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Paul writes in verse 18 that he has the desire to do good, but can’t manage it. I fear that often I cannot even say that. I find myself brought face to face with the brutal truth that I possess, I am afflicted with a tainted will. What do I mean?
Look inside at your motives. Look at the things which you hold dear.
Especially, look at your use of time.
If Christ is not sovereign in all areas, it means you are still, in part, a slave to sin. Not only do you not do what you ought, it’s worse than that. You don’t really want to. Your will is damaged, so you don’t will to love God as you ought. We talk often about how much we desire to serve God, love others and be better people.
It is not true. At least, not wholly.
I confess I do not even want to be a better person. I wish I possessed an intense desire to follow Christ all the way, but I know that my time management betrays me. I am guilty of a divided will, one whose loyalties are split between the good and the best. And that’s when I’m being generous towards myself. Too often I don’t even rise to this dichotomy.
Are we then lost?
Of course not. All believers, in some shape or form, possess a tainted will. After all, we’re human beings and even redeemed humans are a work in progress. We can pray. We can confess our weakness. We can bear ourselves before the Almighty and confess that our wills are tainted, that we don’t desire the glory of God as we ought. We can run from hypocrisy. We can ask God – in the words of Dallas Willard – to renovate our hearts.
There is always hope.
Indeed, if we represent the risen Christ, we bring the only message of Hope which can save a lost world. God doesn’t have a Plan B. We’re it. So, he must believe that he is able to use us, broken as we are.
It pains me greatly to think that such a man as Alan Henning might have believed the best of humanity and discovered the worst. Did he truly understand the risks he was taking? We will never know exactly, though I’m sure he saw or knew of the previous beheadings on Youtube. How tragic and sad.
It’s possibly too easy to roll out a bunch of aphorisms in response to his death. Yet his death surely reminds us of two truisms which deserve comment.
First, good and evil exist. Yes, they do.
Second, a man who gives up his life to serve others and then is killed by evil men – a man we call a hero – will always, always recall the One True Hero who acted likewise. A life lost on behalf of others is something to remember. It reminds us that sacrifice, while painful, indeed devastating, is rich in value. Alan Henning’s story brings tears, but it also tells us that life is precious.
I thank God for men like this cheerful cabbie, who gave up his life so that others could live.
He reminds me of my Saviour.
© Richard Collins 2014