The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown the anger and aggression of those who believe that might is right, dealing out death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.
On the other hand, we have seen hundreds waiting in railway stations in Berlin, offering to provide a home for refugees, while nearer home, charities have quickly mobilised to provide necessary supplies for the beleaguered Ukrainians.
The contrast between good and evil is not just even between different groups at this particularly dangerous time in human affairs, but is a constant within individuals themselves.
An old Roman writer lamented, ‘I see and approve the better — but I follow the worse’.
Even the Christian Paul knew the same struggle; ‘What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Romans 7; 15).
Those of a speculative bent like to argue the toss over whether human beings are basically good, or fundamentally evil.
The late Methodist preacher and broadcaster Colin Morris gave a graphic illustration of that dichotomy in his book, ‘Get Through to Nightfall’.
He wrote: “Somewhere in an American University town there must be a brilliant research chemist.
“It was his technical virtuosity which led to the addition of an extra ingredient to napalm so that the burning jelly would adhere to the human skin with greater tenacity defying the efforts of victims or doctors to scrape it off until it had done its disfiguring work.
“The chances are that this scientist is a decent, kindly man because most people are. And no doubt every morning before he set off for his laboratory, he would bend down and kiss the skin of his children, making no mental connection between that simple human act and the complex chemistry on which he was engaged.”
Those who have viewed the film, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ will remember that the commandant of the concentration camp was an affectionate father, while at the same time helping to starve other children to death.
The preacher and poet, Studdert Kennedy, had seen both these aspects of human life in his role as a Chaplain in the First World War, both the horrible brutality and the superb courage and unselfishness.
He wrote a poem which acknowledged the complexity of human life and behaviour:
I’m a man and a man’s a mixture/ Right down from his very birth;
For there’s part of him comes from heaven/ And part of him comes from earth.
We need the help of God’s Spirit to ensure that the ‘better angels of our nature’ prevail.