The Tell-Tale Heart

A worthless person, a wicked man goes around speaking dishonestly, winking his eyes, signaling with his feet, and gesturing with his fingers. He always plots evil with perversity in his heart—he stirs up trouble. Therefore calamity will strike him suddenly; he will be shattered instantly—beyond recovery.

–Proverbs 6:12-15

Do you think you could kill someone? Could you? Would you?

Oh, of course you wouldn’t!

You’re a nice person. And so am I.

So were all the other people before they embarked on a path of betrayal and savagery and bloodshed.

Another question: Have you ever rooted for a villain in a book, movie, or TV show? I have.

I know, I know — they’re supposed to be the bad guys. But I just can’t help cheering whenever they come out on top.

Take Oswald Cobblepot (aka Penguin), for example, from the hit show Gotham on FOX. I know he’s a bad guy — a really bad guy. He crosses, double-crosses, and triple-crosses friends and enemies alike. He murders and steals and backstabs with impunity. But I still root for him.

And so do millions of others. Probably you too.

The thing, you see, is that a man like Cobblepot isn’t too different from you or me. Sure — different place, different circumstances. But it’s the human heart that pours out the very darkness that we condemn.

We like to pretend that we’re different, but we’re not. In the words of another infamous DC villain: “Their morals, their codes — it’s a bad joke… When the chips are down, these civilized people will eat each other.” So true.

Jesus Christ said, “For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).

Oswald Cobblepot ("Penguin", Robin Lord Taylor) vs. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) in season one of "GOTHAM".

Oswald Cobblepot (“Penguin”, Robin Lord Taylor) vs. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) in season one of “GOTHAM”.

When I cheer on Cobblepot, what’s beating in my chest is a tell-tale heart. A heart that takes common cause in the darkness of another human being. See, I’m a Cobblepot, too. And so are you.

The verses above — about the worthless, wicked, dishonest person who is constantly ‘plotting perversity in his heart’ — is one we shrink from. Of course, it’s describing someone else. Not us!

The truth, though, is that our hearts, too, are desperately wicked. There is only a step between us and villainy of the worst sort. Blood beats from our hearts the same way it beats from the hearts of every murderer, liar, rapist, or robber that walks the earth. We are no better than the ‘perverse’ man of Proverbs 6.

Except… We recognize our potential for evil, and we reject it. Repeatedly. We know the monster is just under the skin. But we refuse to let it come out. We hold to a standard of good that is outside ourselves. And it is this dedication that saves us from the ‘sudden calamity’ that can shatter us ‘beyond recovery.’