For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.
— Isaiah 3:9

What does an evil person look like? In the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings, a not unexpected thing happened in the social media sleuthing for the perpetrators. As readers of popular sites like Reddit pored over photos of the marathon public, they began to highlight suspicious looking figures, and by “suspicious,” many meant bag-lugging figures of “Middle Eastern” countenance, or some other vague non-white descriptor. Some of course in both the mainstream and the alternative media insisted (hoped?) the bomber(s) would be white homegrown terrorists. But in both cases everyone sort of assumed they knew what evil looked like in this instance.

Then something strange happened. The photos of the (alleged) bombers were released by the FBI. Turns out the perpetrators looked a little like everybody’s diverging presumptions assumed they would. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev weren’t homegrown, perhaps, but they were sort of home-raised. They were Muslims, yes, but not Middle Eastern. From Russia’s Caucasus region, these fellows are literally from the place from which we get the word “Caucasian.”

Is this what evil looks like?

Tamerlan was a little easier for our know-it-all eyes to read. The older brother with more visibly evident militant leanings — YouTube clips, hearsay from attenders at the local mosque and even family, concerns from Moscow about terror links, that much-reported trip to Russia last year. But Dzhokhar? As my wife said, “He looks like just a baby.” Lots of people were echoing that sentiment. The very face of Dzhokhar — young, somewhat doe-eyed, moppy hair like every other teenage boy in my town and probably yours — demanded “patsy.” From the minute the two were identified, the speculation saw only his face and his place in the birth order and deduced he was coerced by his older brother, probably against his will, or duped somehow. Some suggested he was set up by the government. (No doubt they will continue to suggest this, but that’s for a post for another time.)

When the media began to interview Dzhokhar’s former teachers and current classmates and friends, the insistence became deafening: “He is not the type of person who would do this.” He’s laid back. He’s cool. He listens to rap music and drinks beer (plays beer pong, even!) and smokes pot and gets with girls, which means he is not a radical Muslim. Which means he’s not evil! Or so they’d say.

What exactly does evil look like again?

Certainly not like the typical college kid, right? But, then, I think we need only see what this college kid did in the immediate days after he set down a backpack near children in order to murder them. He went to the gym to work out. He went to a party. (Friends say nothing seemed out of the ordinary.) He tweeted.

I am inclined to think that even if you were coerced, duped, pressured to murder 3 innocent people (and a 4th a few days later) and injure many others, you would not act so nonchalant afterwards. Nonchalance about one’s evil actions is exactly the face of evil. And the idea that someone like a “chill” college kid could never murder anybody is simply ignorant. We know this from both biblical hamartology and real life. Just a few years doing pastoral counseling has reaffirmed for me that quote-unquote “normal” people can do some very terrible things. Just a few moments of heart introspection will affirm that I am — and you are — quite apt at murderous thoughts, at the very least.

What does evil look like? You and me.

And then there’s this: Nobody is beyond hope. Nobody is beyond redemption. There is no sin so great that God’s gospel is not greater still. Make no mistake: God is holy and just. It is not graceless to suggest that Dzhokhar’s older brother has already begun his eternal damnation. But it is graceless to suggest that that is only what can await Dzhokhar himself. Can’t he who once persecuted you become your servant? As long as Dzhokhar is breathing, there is time to repent and believe. For he who knew no sin became terrorism that we might be called the righteousness of God. If that offends you, I don’t think you know what the face of evil looks like. Or the face of love.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
— 1 Corinthians 6:11

(bottom) Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer’s painting of Saint Paul the Apostle
(middle) media-shared image of Boston Marathon Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
(top) National Geographic artist rendering based on historical scholarship of how Jesus of Nazareth likely looked.
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11 thoughts on “The Face of Evil, and of Love”

  1. anonymous says:

    1 Sam 16:7b God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

  2. Trudy L. says:

    Amen. Stunning to think of, isn’t it, that Jesus Christ, our Peace, our Healer and Lover, didn’t just take the punishment of, declare Himself guilty of terrorism, HE BECAME terrorism, that we all might become the righteousness of God! even this “boy” if he repents & receives the gospel!! To me, this is the most stunning gospel verse in all of scripture! He became all the very abhorent acts he hated and we hate! And wouldn’t it be a sight to see one day, as we’re worshipping at the throne, and we look over and see Dzhorkhar’s face as he, now our brother, worships at the throne of His Savior! May it be–we cry out, Lord, for His salvation. You are a very great Savior!

  3. crm says:

    You are certainly entitled to your thoughts – but I find this article to be a case of both poor journalism and poor Christianity. The facts are not all in – what we do know about the bombing and the alleged bombers seems at best a mess of contradictions and mystifying motives. To use the data as you have here – to assume he is guilty as charged and then make a obscure reference to how guilt or innocence looks and then tie it all to the universal need for salvation – is an example of cheap creative ploy. Please write better and preach plainer.

  4. Lori says:

    Amen. In all of the cries for vengeance, we need to hear some hope for redemption. Yes, punishment is right and needed. But I pray that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (and the wife and young daughter of his brother) find forgiveness and peace and hope and healing in Jesus.

  5. Flyaway says:

    I agree with you. I’m thanking God for the wonderful police, firefighters, medical people, and helpers of people and praying that God will bless them for their efforts. I’m also praying for the young men in this country who have bought in to the lies of Satan –that God will get ahold of them and turn them around before it is too late.

  6. His humble slave says:

    We are all guilty in God’s eyes.

    But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.

    Romans 3:21-26

  7. Noah Kamper says:

    Interesting article, one thing to keep in mind is we shouldn’t already convict this man already before he has a fair trial. In your article you already have him as the guilty party which leaves no room for real justice.

  8. Jared C. Wilson says:

    To all complaining about judging these fellows before trial:

    1. I have used the words “alleged” and “suspect(s)” in the blog post.

    2. It is a blog post, not a judicial declaration.

    2. I am neither a law enforcement official nor a reporter but a person drawing conclusions from available, observable data. Just as you did with your comments about my unfairness. Why judge me as being judgmental without trying my case? Because that would be silly. You observed the available data (what I wrote), drew a conclusion, and shared it. Exactly as I have done about the bombing case.

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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