When the Distinction Between Right and Wrong Is Made Apparent

My husband and I went out yesterday to treat ourselves to ice cream.

We sat in the ice cream shop with our cones.  At a nearby table next to a window, a woman – I’d say in her sixties or so – sat in a bright green shirt just staring at the napkin holder.  She looked disinterested in everything around her, and I wondered if she was waiting for the servers to bring her the food she’d ordered.

Not long after, a man shuffled up to the table.  He stared at her.  “What’s this?” he asked, gesturing to the table.  “Pick the worst table in the place.  Idiot.  Right in the sun.  Look at this.  Why’d you pick it, stupid?”

She didn’t say anything.

He kept on, volume ten, drawing stares from everyone gathered around.  “So stupid.  Of all the tables in the place–and now, look, there’s not even a decent table anywhere around here.  Get up.  Get up!  You’re so lazy.  Find somewhere else to sit!”

She scowled.  “Well where else was I supposed to go?” she spat.  “I don’t know where you wanted to sit.”

He continued to hurl abuse at her for a few moments longer with her snapping back at him weakly before she finally got up in the middle of his diatribe and shuffled over to another table.  She sat.  He sat on the far end.  The servers brought their food, and they ate as though nothing had happened. And all around them, every other diner in the place sat with mouths agape.

It was the first time in my life I’d ever experienced a sort of mutual horrified disgust with complete strangers.  A man next to us exchanged a glance with my husband and I, shook his head.  “Wouldn’t treat my dog like that,” he said, scowling.  Another woman looked at me and shook her head as if to say, can you believe that?  And a burly man behind us, with his motorcycle helmet on the table, said in a low voice, “If he starts on her again, I’m going to say something.”

Nothing further occurred.  But as I discussed the incident under my breath with my husband and saw nearly everyone else in the place doing the same, it occurred to me that for all the talk of secular and spiritual divides, for all the talk of moral relativism in our country, for all the hesitancy to say a word like “sin” or “evil,” most people – even in spite of themselves – instinctively discern the difference between right and wrong, and believe that it should be dealt with.

Here, in this restaurant, an entire cross-section of humanity had quickly arrived at a mutual recognition: what we are seeing is wrong, and it should not be happening.  And I believe everyone has that seed of recognition in them, regardless of how morally relativistic they might appear to be. We all have our red line: the thing that isn’t okay, that we know is wrong, that we expect to be punished or stopped.

Strangely, it reminded me that there is always hope.  God is a god of justice.  He declares that there is a right and a wrong, a good and an evil.  I think a lot of Christians believe we’re living in a world where those distinctions appear to hold very little meaning to people.  Perhaps, in some cases, that’s true.  But I also believe that a lot of people, deep down, recognize that those concepts matter.  They might not like it – they might not want to acknowledge how that should or shouldn’t play out in their own lives – but they recognize that it matters.

And that’s where conversation begins.  Because when you see a wrong, you acknowledge that there almost must be a right.  That some things must be punished, should never happen or be allowed to happen.  That there is a lot in the world that is not right and needs to be corrected. Those moments of recognition are meaningful, and not to be glossed over.  They are the cracks where the presence of God can shine through.

 

 

 

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