The Enemy Within

wolfYour neighbor is not your enemy. Neither is your co-worker, your ex-wife or husband, your former business partner, your brother, or sister. Nor is the immigrant who lives down the street, or that person of a different race, religion, political persuasion, or ethnicity whom you view with suspicion. The enemy is far closer than any of these. The real enemy is you.

The Apostle James diagnosed the human condition as thus: “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.” 

A more philosophical answer came from the moral giant, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago.” He wrote, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

It’s not that we are all “totally depraved,” to use a favorite description of the Puritans and some of the Reformers. Rather, we are a mixed bag, containing within us both light and darkness. We have the capacity for the highest, moral good – made in God’s image as we all are – and the equal potential for hellish atrocity. We can stand in the light of righteousness and virtue, or we can cross over into the darkness of our own hearts. That is the choice, and that is the struggle.

An old, native Cherokee story – one I have heard my entire life – continues to prove this point: A grandfather was talking to his grandson about life and said, “There is a terrible war going on inside me. It is a fight between two great wolves. One is evil; full of anger, greed, arrogance, and hatred.” 

“The other one is good. He is filled with peace, love, kindness, and serenity. Likewise, this fight is going on inside you. It’s going on inside every other person who is alive.” The boy thought about this for a minute, and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?” The old man replied, “The one that you feed.”

The truth is, we must “feed” the good and be “willing to destroy a piece of our own hearts,” the piece that is darkness. We must be willing to turn on the villain within us, rather than demonizing everyone around us. We must be willing to face and subdue our inner enemies, for only then do we realize there aren’t as many enemies left to fight or hate on the outside. In the words of Walt Kelly, the creator and illustrator behind the beloved “Pogo” comic strip: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” 

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