Evil, Justice and Making a Murderer
Just like the first season of Serial captured the attention of millions by drawing listeners into a captivating story bent on seeking the truth in the midst of a terrible crime, the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer has pulled its audience in to a story of crime, corruption, innocence, and guilt.
In the midst of this story, like many compelling crime narratives, truth and justice surface as mega themes. Questions like: Who will be held responsible for the murder of an innocent woman? Can we trust that those who are accountable to pursuing the truth will even know what truth looks like? To what standard are the truth-seekers in a society held?
What makes these stories so popular? What chord does this strike with millions that has them binge watching, arguing with co-workers, and going out on social media to campaign for the guilt or innocence of a man already convicted?
Stories like the one told in Making a Murderer are captivating because they scratch at the kinds of questions that lie at the bottom of our deepest desires, doubts, and problems. We cry out for justice because deep down we know that the world is broken. Our cry for justice lives on the belief (wittingly or unwittingly) that there is a way the world is supposed to be. What is, is not what ought to be. And we are mad. Someone, in our opinion, must answer.
It seems that Making a Murderer, and other shows like it, are propped up on two key ideas: truth and evil.
1. Evil has infected and confused humanity’s interaction with each other.
Among those watching Making a Murderer there seem to be two predominant groups of people: those who believe the police could possibly have planted evidence, and those who cannot fathom the idea that police could possibly do something like this. Here is the reality: evil is pervasive at every level of society. Truth is, Avery may be absolutely guilty of all the charges. On the other hand, if you find it inconceivable that a group of powerful people couldn’t possibly give in to an evil desire to malign and hurt a vulnerable person, then you possess both a small view of evil and of the strangeness of truth.
Wherever you land on the Avery story, the real struggle is to avoid the pitfall of assuming that evil is confined only to the accused, when the accuser can often be as susceptible to evil. Truth is there to be found, but it might be stranger than you think.
The tension of the show, what pulls the viewer in, is the uncertainty that evil creates. Sin has not just broken the relationship between God and man, but between man and his kindred. What does Adam do immediately after God confronts him in Genesis 3? He blames his wife. In Making a Murderer you see the full brokenness of human relationships on display: a man wrongfully accused of a previous crime, an institution of authority (criminal justice system) acting deceptively, a woman murdered, a man accused of this murder, a family torn apart by the crime, a family grieving the loss of a sister/daughter, and a community suspect that those elected to seek the truth, might be hiding it.
Making a Murderer exposes the way that evil can infect every aspect of how mankind relates to one another.
2. People don’t need a reason to do evil.
You aren’t perfect. Sometimes you make mistakes, and often those mistakes seem to be so simple that you can’t point to a definitive reason why you made the mistake, chose to do something wrong, or decided against what was right. Why is that? Are evil deeds simply irrational? I have heard countless times in watching the series, “Why on earth would Avery have killed an innocent woman? Why would the cops have framed him? What was the motivation?”
The sad and strange truth is that humans don’t need a reason to do evil, because of Adam (our representative in the garden), we have entered the world unable and unwilling to do good. We aren’t evil, because we do evil. We do evil, because we are evil. No one likes this part: Apart from Christ, criminals, cops, judges, and jurors are all marred by evil. For when Adam sinned, everyone who ever lived sinned with him. How’s that for a strange truth?
Only when we are united to Christ does sin become unnatural, because we now stand under the representation of a Savior who succeeded where Adam failed. For the believer, the jury is out and the accuser is silenced.
It’s no surprise that we are inconsistent, crying out for justice when we deny that anything is absolutely true or truly evil at all; we are people sick with sin in a world broken by the curse of sin.
The strange truth of Christianity is this: Humanity is the cause of all the great evil in the world, yet we cry out for someone other than us to be held accountable. We hate the evil we see in the world and yet we contribute to it. We are culpable, guilty. Our cries for someone else to be held accountable on our behalf should fall on deaf ears, but they don’t. And hope rises up, for whether we have found ourselves rightfully accused or counted among deceptive accusers, there is one who says, “Here, I’ll take your evil and you take my righteousness.”
When a show like Making a Murderer or a podcast like Serial catches your attention, could it be that what pulls you in and captures your imagination is the deep desire to see the world made right, to see justice done? Or could it be that they serve as a mirror, pointing out to us how our own views of justice, evil, and truth might be different than the world around us.