The Mystery of Iniquity
By Audrey Stallsmith
Years ago I was addicted to the Unsolved Mysteries TV show. Because I am a mystery novelist, I liked the opportunity to try to “solve” real-life cases myself. My father wasn’t as fond of the show, since puzzles with no solutions irritate him.
As the current disappearance of an airplane proves, such mysteries can also be excruciating to the people actually involved in them. It is impossible for those people to go on with life as usual without knowing what happened to their loved ones. They are left hanging in such a precarious state that any answer seems better than none.
Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always offer the neat explanations you find in mystery novels. As proved by updated cases on the Unsolved Mysteries show, the killer may turn out to be a completely different person than any who were suspected at the time. And, even when a murder is solved, many threads are left dangling. Some of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the crime are never explained, which may leave everyone to wonder whether the solution really is the correct one.
People are strange. That’s my answer to many of those dangling threads! A few of the facts considered baffling at the time probably should have been attributed to the victim’s foibles or eccentricities.
For example, I often wedge my bedroom door shut at night. If I were murdered under those circumstances, the investigators would probably conclude that I was afraid of someone. I use the wedge, however, because the door doesn’t latch properly, and one or the other of our cats tries to pry it open when he or she gets bored during the night. So what I actually fear is my sleep being disturbed!
That room always looks as if it has just been ransacked too, since a good housekeeper I am not. That could lead to more misunderstandings in this theoretical murder case.
One of the biggest mysteries, even after a crime is solved, is the why. Real-life motives hardly ever seem adequate. If I used them in my novels, editors would call them implausible, no matter how much I whined, “But that is how things really happen!”
In an old Unsolved Mysteries case we recently watched, a young drug dealer convinced one of his customers to settle a $1,200 debt by killing a teenage boy. Not only did the customer agree to that, but several of his friends helped him with the murder, even though they weren’t apparently receiving any benefit from it and risked spending the rest of their lives in prison as a result. They were all young themselves, though I don’t recall now whether they were also in their teens or in their early twenties instead.
If I understood the case correctly, all of them came from a middle-class neighborhood, rather than a crime-ridden slum. We have to ask ourselves, Can people who don’t even have the excuses of poverty and desperation really be that coldhearted—not to mention stupid? Yes, apparently they can. Then we are left with, “But how do they get that way?”
Part of it is the herd instinct, of course. If one of the guys involved had said, “Hey, this is just wrong” or even "this is just crazy," I suspect the others would have followed his lead and been happy to back out of the crime. However, young men are so afraid of being thought cowards that they will frequently go along with almost anything to prove otherwise. What that conformity actually proves, of course, is how wimpy they really are. Teenage girls, being less naturally violent, apparently just drive other girls to kill themselves instead!
I suspect part of this can be attributed to a society where many young people receive little moral training, and what they do get may be on the wimpy side itself. If those boys had believed that they would spend eternity in hell as a result of their crime, that might have given them pause too.
Whether it is found in the old or young, almost all sin seems to spring from a lethal combination of pride, fear, impatience, and the need to be accepted. Adultery, for example, often happens because a spouse thinks, “If he (or she) doesn’t want me anymore, I know somebody else who does.” By taking that step, the spouse may throw away a marriage which was just going through a rough spot and would have righted itself soon enough. He or she may also lose the respect of the children in the family, as well as that of the other spouse.
Sin always causes more—and worse—problems than we may have thought it was going to solve. The person who steals to support his family will find that out soon enough, when he ends up in prison, unable any longer to even be with that family.
Sin isn’t logical, but we aren’t strictly logical beings either. When we see it in someone else, we think we would never do that, because we have too much common sense. We don’t take into account the forces of evil who know our weak points.
The strength of those demons often only becomes obvious to us when we have to struggle against them. As C. S. Lewis notes in The Screwtape Letters, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”
Other people can become tempters to us too, when we make their opinion of us more important than God’s opinion. That’s just crazy, because public opinion won’t decide where we will spend eternity. Heaven, after all, isn’t a reality show where we get voted in or out by our fellow players.
I’ve always had problems with social media, especially Facebook. It seems to me that trying to earn “likes” takes us straight back to high school, where I wasn’t popular anyway, so I wouldn’t have earned many of those thumbs-ups! I can’t say my individuality then sprang from courage, though, but from shyness—another type of fear.
So it’s possible that my aversion to Facebook is partly sour grapes. I hope, however, that it also rises from my current realization that my worth doesn’t come from other people but from God.
The ancient prophets probably had to keep reminding themselves of that fact, since some of them were very unpopular—even with their own families, no doubt. All of that gloom and doom gets very depressing, after all, not to mention that a prophet’s wife might die just so God could make a point! (Ezekiel 24:16-24)
Fortunately, those prophets realized that there were things more important than their own happiness. We are most likely to get into trouble when we make this life the be-all and end-all, when we assume that success here is the only success.
In those circumstances, we often panic and try to run ahead of God, because we think we know better than He does. Some Biblical scholars believe that Judas tumbled into that trap and tried to force Christ into being a more obvious Messiah, into rebelling against the Roman government. Judas didn’t realize that God had a longer-range plan that depended on Christ’s death.
We may be required to endure years of self-control and suffering, with few tangible results, just as the prophets or early Christians did. But trying to get around our limitations by cheating won’t help.
That was illustrated in an old Tracy and Hepburn movie we watched the other night, where an idealistic presidential candidate decided he had to go along with the corruption in the electoral process just so he could become president and clean things up once he was in. His plan, of course, didn’t work, because compromising his principles turned him into a completely different person.
None of us can be good through our own strength. Even if we muster sufficient discipline to jerk away from the more obvious sins, we are likely to overbalance and tumble into those of pride and self-righteousness as a result.
To avoid that, we need to follow the advice of Psalms 27:14 and ask God to take control rather than relying on our own self-control. “Don’t be impatient. Wait for the Lord, and he will come and save you! Be brave, stouthearted, and courageous. Yes, wait and he will help you.”