If social media has taught us anything, it’s how rapidly public opinion can rise into a tidal wave of joy or outrage in blink of an eye. And this shows us a little bit about how our society tends to function, morally speaking.
Exhibit A. A young mom goes to Kohl’s and ends up walking out with a Chewbacca mask. Once she gets in the car, she uses her cell phone to film herself putting it on and laughing hysterically at the sounds the mask makes. After posting the video to the internet, the video “went viral,” as they say. Within 2-3 weeks, the “Chewbacca mom” garnered the attention not just of social media users, but companies started giving her all sorts of gifts. One college even awarded her children full college scholarships. Time magazine estimated the sum of all her gifts to be well over $400,000.
Exhibit B. A mom takes her child to the zoo. Somehow, some way, the child ends up in the gorilla pit, forcing the zoo to kill the gorilla in an effort to save the child. And once again, on the internet, the crowds went wild. Only this time, not as a cheering section, but as a lynch mob. People were irate over the “Gorilla mom’s” apparent negligence. Why should an endangered animal have to die just because she can’t be a parent? Online petitions were circulated, demanding justice for the fallen gorilla.
So there we have it. Sit in the car in front of Kohl’s and you can be an internet hero. Let your child fall into a pit and you become tabloid trash.
I know, I know, I know; there’s something to be said here about parenting skills and protecting your child from doing something stupid (and risky). It’s just that when things like this happen everyone leaps to assumptions and accusations, as though we all possess a perfectly-tuned moral compass and the needle’s pointing toward the Chewbacca mom and far, far away from the gorilla mom.
When tragedy comes, the natural thing to do is look for a cause. If we can ascribe blame, then maybe we can prevent the tragedy from ever happening again. And maybe—just maybe—blame can help us feel better about ourselves. We like a world that’s neatly divided between the Chewbacca mom and the Gorilla mom, because it feels good to associate ourselves with laughter and to distance ourselves from perceived negligence—and tears.
We find a similar collision of values in Luke’s portrait of Jesus:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
There are many times when Jesus’ biographers detail historical events that we can find evidence for elsewhere. This isn’t one of those times. We know nothing of these two incidents save for what we find here. First, there had apparently been a time when Pilate had killed a group of Galileans when they were offering their sacrifice—most likely Passover, the only time when non-priests would make such sacrifices. The temptation that Jesus’ admirers faced was to assume that God had caused this to happen because these guys deserved it somehow. Jesus will have none of it. He reminds them of another, previous incident, where a tower fell and killed eighteen people. But, Jesus asks, are we really willing to say that these people deserved it while others did not?
The Chewbacca mom and Gorilla mom debate goes chillingly deep. When more severe tragedies strike, it’s tempting to try and separate the world into black and white categories of right and wrong—and of course we’re on the right side.
After his release from a Russian Gulag, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn found himself wishing for such a gap to emerge. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us…But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
The famed writer is onto something. The line between internet sensation and tabloid trash has nothing to do with Chewbacca masks or gorilla pits. The line slices right through the human heart. By God’s grace, we experience the exhilarating joys of life, and by our weakness, we taste all the bitterness life can muster. The gospel shatters our weaknesses and replaces them with God’s strength. Our feelings of inferiority and superiority wither when we recognize that we will be measured not by what we’ve done, but what has been done for us.
And as Christians, it’s up to us to make that message go viral.
 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulad Archipelago. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 168.