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We Are Marvelous and Terrible and So Very Human
The state of the Church is flawed, but the faithfulness and goodness of God remains, in spite of our bad actions.

Humans. We are wonderfully intricate, intelligent and creative. We are also base, stupid and the cause of terrible problems. We are a complicated species. One simple action can lead to marvelous or dreadful consequences.

I have been thinking our species over the past few weeks as I've tracked news reports...

We are, as we often say in our defense, only human. And I often wonder what that means, to be only human. It’s an excuse that makes no sense, for to be human is to be far from simple or straightforward. It’s far from being easily explained or even easily excused.

To be human is to marvelous and terrible, or at least to have the capacity to carry out marvelous and terrible actions, all emanating from the same source.

I have been thinking our species over the past few weeks as I’ve tracked news reports of some of the most stupid and heinous activities attributed to members of the human race. I have also been thinking about the fact that the conduct of humans invariably leads to a judgment on non-human entities, structures and institutions. I guess it’s inevitable. It’s also unfortunate.

But we make these judgments more in some cases than in others. And I wonder why that is.

Consider Roman Polanski, as an example. The famous, infamous, movie director is in jail in Switzerland, awaiting extradition to the United States where he will finally face charges for raping a 13 year old girl 30 years ago. 

In the swirl of news reports following his arrest, some people (including Hollywood celebrities and French politicians) rose to his defense. Public opinion all over the world loudly pushed those voices back down, which says something in itself about humanity – sometimes a few of us say stupid things and the masses rise up to correct.

But for all the opinions expressed about Roman Polanski, they are just that -- opinions about the man, the director. People have not attached their aversion of the man and his crime to the craft he represents. No one seems to be saying they will abandon movies (not even his Oscar-winning movies) because the man attached to them is guilty of a crime against another human.

We do not dismiss art because those who represent it are base, stupid or the cause of terrible problems.

We wonder about what’s happening in an institution like the RCMP when its members are discovered to have killed Robert Dziekanski, the innocent visitor caught in terrifying circumstances in the Vancouver airport. We wonder, and we investigate and perhaps we’ll even demand massive changes in our national police force. But we don’t disbelieve in our need for law and order -- in fact we realize we need it more than ever.

We hold on to our belief in these non-human entities, even when their human representatives behave so badly. Somehow we are able to distance the representative from that which he or she represents.

Well, we are able to do it in most cases.

When Bishop Raymond Lahey was arrested recently on charges of possessing child pornography, people immediately began to question the trustworthiness of the church, and then, not surprisingly, of God.

And they are right to question the church – for it is an institution run by humans. In this current case, not unlike so many of the cases before it, the allegations are made against one of its leaders. One does not have to think deeply to realize the church as an institution is deeply flawed.

But a flawed institution does not necessarily mean the truth or principles behind the institution are flawed. The beauty of art remains in spite of Roman Polanski. The necessary principles of law and order remain in spite of the actions of flawed police officers. The goodness of God remains, in spite of the bad actions of religious people.

In his recent book, God Is (Doubleday Canada), author David Adams Richards puts it this way as he writes about his response to a woman who once asked him if he is a Christian.

“Do I believe in God? Far more now than when I was 20, far more than when I was 35 and I hope not as much as when I am 70.”

“And have you done serious wrong?”

“I have done serious wrong many times – but God, I’m afraid, had nothing to do with it.”

As I read those lines, I could only agree. Humans – we humans -- have everything to do with it. We are marvelous and we are terrible. And we must accept the responsibility for that.

Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at

Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, October 9, 2009, and simultaneously on

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