As a child I had a love-hate obsession with The Wizard of Oz. I first saw it at the drive-in when I was young enough to fit on the shelf under the back window of our old Buick. I clutched my little blanket and shivered as the evil witch waved her broomstick and the winged monkeys did her dirty work. But I was spellbound when Dorothy sang and the lion roared and the good witch saved the day. In the years that followed I watched the movie many more times and laughed when the evil witch and monkeys appeared on screen because I knew they would be punished and good would triumph in the end.
It wasn’t until I became an adult that I began to realize that the most fearful character in the movie was the wizard, the man behind the curtain who tricked everyone into thinking he was powerful, sent them on a dangerous mission, and then convinced them to accept an alternative reward instead of the one he had promised. In the end it was Dorothy who saved herself, using the faith and skills she had always had. Sure, Glinda had to remind her, but you have to give Dorothy credit for believing anyone again after her experience with the wizard.
I’ve replayed that curtain scene in my mind a hundred times over the years. It represents one of life’s greatest and most powerful lessons- no one is exactly what they seem to be. Every person we meet is a mixture of good and evil, honesty and deception, appearance and disguise. We are attracted to the good in people and hopefully align ourselves with those who share our values and encourage our own goodness. But there are those among us who take advantage, who deceive, who rely on our naiveté about the evils of the world. They use their status or relationship or occupation to fool us into thinking they are rewarding us. That’s why it’s such a mistake to label people as good or bad based on their status, occupation, ethnicity, religion, relationship, intelligence, beauty, wealth, or anything else other than our own day to day experience with them. If we can be deceived by someone working beside us day after day or someone preaching from our church pulpit on Sunday or someone on our streets in uniform, think how much easier it is to be wrong about someone we don’t even know.
The Bible says that all have sinned, but it also warns us against true evil. I have been blessed to know many more “good people who make mistakes” than “evil people who intentionally mislead”. However, the evil ones have left a painful scar on my heart because they have worn the mask of beloved relative, preacher, teacher, colleague, and friend in order to hide their true identities as child molesters, murderers, and thieves. I can’t begin to describe the heartache of thinking you “know” someone and then finding out that behind their professional title and charming personality was a pedophile. Or knowing someone through the most ordinary circumstances and reading in the paper the next day that he went home and killed his wife. You can’t make these things up, or erase them from your memories.
I suppose some might think I am foolish to continue to have faith in the goodness of people, but I believe in my heart that we are still the majority and that the wicked of the world will be punished and good will triumph in the end.
Proverbs 6:12-16 New King James Version (NKJV)
The Wicked Man
12 A worthless person, a wicked man,
Walks with a perverse mouth;
13 He winks with his eyes,
He shuffles his feet,
He points with his fingers;
14 Perversity is in his heart,
He devises evil continually,
He sows discord.
15 Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly;
Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy.