May 12, 1992
My mom’s favorite rhetorical question is: “How could anyone do such a thing?”
The recent riots in Los Angeles and other major cities have no doubt brought the same question to many minds. How could anyone beat an uninvolved bystander to death? Or shoot a child? Or break into a business and walk away with whatever they want?
About a week before the riots began, I heard someone talk about erosion, not in reference to the topsoil blowing around Saskatchewan but regarding the erosion of the human will. This concept answers the question: How can people be so illogically sinful?
Basically, the average person thinks twice about violating social and moral norms. Most of us are not interested in committing any kind of gross offense or act of violence, either in mob conditions or more private situations. We are constrained by moral or religious convictions, fear of consequences, love of others, any number of things.
However, the temptation to evil seldom comes at us in the beginning with something gross. It usually starts with something small, a tiny temptation, something that seems fairly harmless. We know it is not right but since there seems to be no immediate reason why not to do it, or it seems no one is looking or caring, we tend to compromise our convictions.
The first one, because it is so easy to slide into, is probably the most difficult to resist. The next temptation, the next opportunity to compromise, is easier to give in to, not because it seems even more appealing but because once we have yielded our wills, an erosion process has begun.
Our will is like the humus in prairie top soil. It serves as a protection. But when it is gone, it doesn’t take much wind to further deplete the land. Improved agricultural practices offered hope that the dust bowls of the Thirties would never be repeated, yet confidence this would not happen again tends to relax diligence.
It is the same with our will. When the surface resolve to say no to temptation is relaxed, the winds of compromise begin to deplete the soul. One capitulation after another soon leaves nothing to resist the final furious blast — and the person whose will has been eroded finds himself doing something that prior to his gradual slide he would never have consented to do.
But topsoil is not without hope. Once it is totally depleted it is in a stage called old age, but “such processes as erosion, flooding, dust storms, and volcanic eruptions expose or provide new, unweathered parent material to begin a new soil life cycle” (Grollier Electronic Publishing, Inc.)
Neither are souls without hope. Those who participated in the violence in Los Angeles, and others who have slid into gross sin, can acknowledge their depleted lives, ask God for forgiveness and begin anew — with His transforming help.
Better yet, both for soil and souls, is to avoid such erosion in the first place. A farmer needs to daily check the condition of his land. Leaders of major cities need to daily check the condition of their citizens. Each of us need to daily check the condition of our souls. Are we taking care of the little things? Or compromising here and there?
God promises, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The best way out is not at the end when so much damage has been done, or even in the middle when we are often too weak in our resolve to say no, but right at the beginning — while we can still stand against the winds of temptation.