At a banquet given by the Governor of Hong Kong, Chuck Colson was seated beside a woman of prestige. Wanting to impress Colson (who was the guest speaker) she went on and on praising him for all the good works he was doing in prisons. She went so far as to greatly exaggerate things he had done, which made him more than a little embarrassed. Partly to correct her over-indulgence he told her: “Madam: If truth were told, I have more in common with Adolph Hitler than with Jesus Christ”. In his account of the story, he was immediately shocked that this thought had come out of his mouth and, at the same time, delighted that it accomplished the goal of bringing peace and quiet to their end of the table. But after that evening, he did some more thinking about the matter.
He concluded that he could, unfortunately, stand by his statement as accurate. Though Colson (and most of us) could readily conclude he had more moral fiber and sense than Hitler, the difference between himself and Hitler was not as great as the moral distance between himself and the Savior. Though this is true of almost everyone, perhaps we don’t see the true implications of this.
Last week, when the Kony2012 video went viral, the name “Joseph Kony” came back into my life. Let me explain. Every January I ask God to give me the name of a country to pray for during the 12 months ahead. Back in 2004, God gave me the countries of Uganda and Burundi to pray for. As I did my research in the book “Operation World” they referenced the deplorable behavior of Josephy Kony and his band of mercenaries. I spent several hours one day researching the actions of this horrible man. To sum up: Kony is one of the worst perpetrators of the practice of kidnapping young children and then forcing them to kill their family members. In this way, these kidnapped children have no family (except his army) and they are too ashamed to ever return home again. He is certainly not the only one to use this practice (The website “Children of Conflict” says there are currently armies in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Burma also operating this way). However, Kony is perhaps the most violent and egregious in his disregard for the dignity and freedom of children.
Yet I still have to conclude that I have more in common with this man than I do with Jesus Christ.
Joseph Kony grew up in a religion that was a strange mixture of Christianity and paganism. His aunt, Alice Lakwena, was a priestess of this tribal group whose practices included contact with dead people, seances and prophetic dreams using hallucinogenic drugs. His parents left him in the care and control of his aunt and her ways. Joseph himself was brought up by her to believe he was a prophet because of the vivid dreams he had. In the late 90s, Kony had a dream where he believed the Lord ordered him to put together an army that would rape, murder, pillage and terrorize parts of Uganda. From that day until this, he has never stopped.
Dallas Willard in his excellent book “The Renovation of the Heart” in his chapter called “Radical Evil in the Ruined Soul says:
“Now, when the light of the fundamental truth and reality, God, is put out in the heart and the soul, the intellect becomes dysfunctional, trying to devise a “truth” that will be compatible with the basic falsehood that man is god.”
What Willard is showing us is the true nature of the human heart: When we don’t know God in Truth, we will grasp at anything that makes us and those like us the center of power, glory and worship. Joseph Kony did not start out with a good understanding of who created the Universe, who sustains it and to whom all glory should be given. I have to ask if I would have acted much differently had I been born into his family, with his aunt, fighting off the same demons that manifested at the same rituals. I was born in a different place with different people and different beliefs. Though I know I probably would not have taken error that far, I am not as far removed from his heart as I want to believe. I still have major times of narcissism and self-aggrandizement that shock even me.
In the past ten years, there have been people I wished were dead, even though I don’t think I would kill them if I had the chance. I have lied at times, withheld important information that would have helped others, harbored bitterness, hatred, revenge and jealousy in my heart. All of these things also stoke the fires of mercenaries and dictators the world over. I am just lazier than most of them and couldn’t be bothered to raise up an army or even a good-sized posse.
But Jesus is changing my inside. Those jealousies, bitternesses, hatreds, narcissistic attitudes have all come under daily scrutiny with the Holy Spirit. Because of His presence in my heart and mind, I can’t just follow the old paths of self-destruction without a voice behind me encouraging me to turn to the right or the left. With the thousands of life-turns God has helped me to navigate, I have to wonder where I would have been if not for all of that aid. Perhaps I wouldn’t have lived where Joseph Kony lives, but I might be in the same neighborhood.