People in my town, Waukesha, Wisconsin, are reeling from an incident a few days ago in which two 12-year-old girls allegedly stabbed one of their best friends, an act that they had plotted for months, all because of delusional thinking about a mysterious internet urban legend called Slender Man. The girls believed this bogey man actually existed, and that killing someone would be a way of gaining his favor. So after a birthday sleepover they descended on the friend as they played in a park. They stabbed her 19 times and abandoned her in some bushes where they thought she would die (thankfully, she dragged herself to a road and was saved).
One of the 12-year-old attackers described what was going on: “The bad part of me wanted her to die, the good part of me wanted her to live.”
What are we to make of this? I am reminded of Romans 7 and other biblical passages which indicate that we all can talk about “the bad part of me” and “the good part of me.”
If we haven’t figured it out already, heinous shootings, bombings, and stabbings often erupt from the lives of people who seem pretty normal. Perhaps isolated. Often socially awkward. But not monsters. Inside however, there is “the bad part of me.” This should be sobering to us, and it should compel us to understand.
Romans 7:15-22 says “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me…. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (NIV).
Good part, bad part.
In our communities and families we ought to be asking one very important question: how can we better look out for each other? Yes, there will be renewed calls for parents to be aware of what their young children are doing on the internet. And we will look again at the problems of social isolation and ostracism in our schools. We will question whether ghoulish forms of entertainment are healthy. But we will not be going deep enough unless we are watching out for each other and discern what is happening in “the bad part of me.”
One day the London Times sent out an inquiry asking the simple question: what’s wrong with the world today? The editor was surprised to get back an even briefer reply from the widely-influential Christian author G. K. Chesterton:
There are dark parts of the soul in each and every one of us. This is the longstanding historic Christian view of human nature. Unpleasant but true. The darkness can be simple ignorance, solved by bringing more light into the situation. For some darkness has become the living space for evil. Another kind of darkness is delusion—unpredictable and dangerous. The 12-year-old girls seem to have been deluded in that they utterly confused reality and fantasy, planning on meeting up with Slender Man in the woods of northern Wisconsin, of all places.
We need to look out for each other. We need to take delusion very seriously. Adults need to understand that the developing minds of children have phases when they are not grounded in reality, and that is when they need protection.
But watching out for the bad is only one side of the issue. “The bad part of me wanted her to die, the good part of me wanted her to live.” What about “the good part”?
Perhaps the most important question is: how can we look out for each other in order to strengthen, develop, and deepen “the good part of me”? That means taking our spiritual lives seriously. Not letting dark ideas and images dominate our minds. Filling our hearts and minds with the qualities listed in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV).